We’ve all been there. Maybe it was a time when you were talking about some challenge you were facing, or maybe you were trying to quietly deal with a private situation. Then someone comes along and says, “I have some advice for you . . . .”
Americans spend over $10 billion a year on self-help books, classes, coaches and therapy, looking for advice for solving their problems and living their lives. Unsolicited advice is usually not what we want. Of course, growing up, we got a lot of advice from our parents. I remember when my children neared their teens, it became important for me to give them advice rather than commands.
“I suggest you clean up your room.”
“If I were you, I would not miss my curfew.”
But there comes a time when even well-meant advice can rub you the wrong way.
Why do they butt in?
Psychologists have long believed that people who insist on giving advice when you haven’t asked for it may subconsciously be trying to prove that they could handle your situation better than you can. They have more knowledge, experience and understanding of these kinds of challenges. They may not actually believe this, but they want YOU to, and they want it to be true.
This is why a lot of advice you hear actually fits the speaker’s situation better than yours:
“If I were you, I’d walk right up to her and punch her in the face.”
“Take my advice and divorce him.”
“You should get another cat. You can never have too many.”
Certain situations lend themselves to unsolicited advice, and you will hear it from family, friends and even strangers who think they know best:
“Honey, three is plenty. You don’t want any more babies.”
“Homeschooling is the best (or worst) decision you can make for your child.”
“You should really lose some weight.”
“I have just the remedy for that (wart, rash, cough, tumor).”
You may want to offer some advice of your own about what they can do with their advice. However, if you are trying to live a kinder, more respectable life, it’s a good idea to have some answers ready when you receive unsolicited advice.
Consider the source
Is the advisor your sweet little grandmother, your beloved spouse or a trusted friend? The advice is likely given out of love and concern for your well-being.
Your response should reflect appreciation for that love. A simple thank you or an indication that you will definitely think about it may satisfy the speaker who only wants what’s best for you.
If the person offering counsel is someone who seldom has your best interests at heart, you might say, “Thank you, but I’m not really looking for help with this problem.”
Consider the situation
Is the advice coming in a quiet moment when you and the advisor can freely discuss several options that are available to you? This may be a time to bounce some ideas around or to simply ask your friend to be available if you need suggestions in the future.
Is your advisor using your situation to captivate an audience with a long story about his or her own problems? The best response for this unsolicited advice may be changing the subject or even leaving he room.
Consider the pressure
Do you feel this person will not relent until you agree to follow their advice? Are they offering you phone numbers, setting up meetings or otherwise intruding in your personal affairs? You may benefit from firmly saying, “I’m not going to do that.”
A true friend will not pressure you but will offer suggestions for you to think about. Someone who really wants to help will understand if you politely ask him or her to back off. In fact, such advice may come with a preface: “If this is none of my business, please just say so. Maybe you just need someone to listen.”
A friend like this may have some wisdom worth considering.