Unsolicited Advice – Practice it before you preach it

by Sandy L on January 13, 2011

It’s definitely that time of year where lots of people are turning over new leaves and trying to make some positive changes in their lives.  This also seems to be the time of year when  unsolicited advice spreads like pink eye in a daycare.

If you’re one of those people who always wants to help another (myself being guilty of this), you are likely to be an unsolicited advice giver.  I find that engineers are notoriously bad at this because even if they don’t know what they’re talking about, they still try to formulate a theory to solve the problem at hand.  That is what engineers do. Solve problems they don’t have immediate answers to, make hypothesis, and test them until they find an answer.  At any rate, I was thinking that unsolicited advice is something that I not only give but also receive, so I thought I’d write a little post on it.

If you are the giver of advice, first ask yourself these questions:

  • What stage of problem solving is this person at? Sometimes a person just wants to vent a problem to get it off their chest, but they are not always at the emotional or physical state to be able to take action just yet.  They need to be mentally prepared for the change. If you start giving action plans before they are ready, then it will just fall on deaf ears and be construed as bossy or demeaning.
  • Is the person asking for help? If you’re not sure why someone has come to you (to just listen), or to actually help, then ask them. Make sure they want your advice before dispensing it.  Maybe they don’t want any help at all and they’re just recapping their day.
  • Are you reputable source to dispense the advice? Babci is always giving me diet tips and she’s easily 100 pounds overweight. When Babci dispenses weight loss advice to me, I always ask her “if that works so well, why aren’t you 100 pounds thinner?”

I’m going to tangenate here, but I really hate that I see the same food habits that Babci has in myself. I also see it in my youngest. We all want to eat all the time and are constantly thinking about food. I’ve been able to keep my weight at bay with exercise, but it doesn’t take much to pack on the pounds..and I currently have a few too many.  I really hope I don’t pick up the denial thing too.  She’s always saying “I don’t eat, my weight is because of this or that.”  Um, I’m pretty sure you just scarfed down  1/2 of a pie in one sitting.  Yes, you do eat and quite a lot, actually.

  • Will helping the person do any good? Sometimes people look to others to get them out of jams. They not only look to others to fix their problems, but also are looking for someone else to blame besides themselves for the problem occurring in the first place. Make sure you are aware of the potential for codependent relationships.  If you want to be a help, it’s easy to cross the line between helper and enabler.

If you are the receiver of unsolicited advice, then try to use the following approaches:

  • First, try to understand that the person giving the advice is just trying to help. Sometimes it might  come off as condescending or demeaning or criticism but I’m sure in most cases that is not the intent of the advice giver.  If you really don’t want to hear the advice, be nice and say “I’m not ready to take that step yet..first I need to do X.”
  • Know that it’s not mandatory to listen and act on someone’s advice. Take from it what you want and leave the rest.
  • Determine if you respect the person’s knowledge on a subject. If you’re not sure, ask them what their advice is based on.  You may not want to accept makeup advice from your friend who went to clown school.  But then again, they have access to professional makeup and how to apply it and they may be able to teach you something.
  • Try to get something out of the conversation and thank the person for trying to help you.

How do you deal with giving and/or receiving unsolicited advice?

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone January 13, 2011 at 6:44 AM

I once got lost and had to ask for directions – there was this guy, extremely polite and it looked like he knew what he was talking about. Turned out his directions were completely wrong!

I guess he just made something up just so he wouldn’t come across as unhelpful!


101 Centavos January 13, 2011 at 7:12 AM

I’ve learning to apply the golden rule to unsolicited advice. Unless it’s from a few select people, I don’t much care for being the recipient. Therefore, I try not to give it out. *Solicited* advice is another story altogether.


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:53 AM

101- It’s hard for me not to give it out and have to hold back a lot.


Money Beagle January 13, 2011 at 7:19 AM

My wife and sister-in-law often get into disagreements because they both give each other advice that the other wasn’t asking for. I think you’re right, but part of it is that the comfort level you have with someone allows one to say things that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise.


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:54 PM

MB- It is definitely harder to receive advice from family members. I still don’t like babci’s advice and it’s not til year’s later that I realize that some of it was actually pretty good. I think with family, it’s easy for it to be taken as criticism.


Molly On Money January 13, 2011 at 8:45 AM

I love giving advice (and I’d like to think I adhere to the standards you laid out -they are great) and I love receiving it. The problem is trying to actually get people to give me advice- it rarely happens! I’m good natured and rarely get defensive. One of the qualities I love from a good friend is she always tells me like it is. I will say though she is always sweet and has an amazing way of getting it across so it’s not an attack.


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:58 PM

Molly – I love giving and receiving it. I especially loved the advice I got when I was a new mom. I really felt clueless and was happy to get any that people were willing to dispense. The exception is when people don’t know what the heck they are talking about..then it gets annoying.


Nicole January 13, 2011 at 8:48 AM

I have accepted that despite all appearances to the contrary, I was born with a Y chromosome and have a very difficult time just offering sympathy when someone comes to me with a problem. They’re not asking for advice when they complain, but I give it anyway.

As an academic, I also tend to engage unsolicited advice in a discussion of pros and cons. Which is possibly not what the adviser had in question. But I don’t mind getting it usually… just explain why I’m going to do what I’m going to do.

And sometimes the unsolicited advice is good!

I get irritated when people get irritated by things that have free disposal costs.

I am very bad at giving directions. Especially if you are driving a car in Boston. The directions I’m giving you are WALKING directions because it doesn’t matter if it is a one-way street when you’re walking. Oops.


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:01 PM

Nicole – I love the line about things that cost nothing to dispose of. I hate complainers too and it’s my default position to try to go into problem solving mode. I’m starting to realize that sometimes listening is all a person needs or wants. I’m no where near perfect to adhering to my own rules of thumb, but I’m trying.


Everyday Tips January 13, 2011 at 9:56 AM

I try to discern if someone is looking for advice, or looking to vent. I know that sometimes I just want to blow off steam, and my husband will try to ‘fix’ the problem. I then yell “I am not looking for a solution, I am just venting!”. I know I am generalizing, but I think men tend to want to fix things, and so just listening may be difficult. Or maybe that is just the men I know.

People do ask my advice a bit, but quite often, the person is not ready to receive it. They think they want advice, but sometimes the solution is just too difficult. So, they come back 6 months later with the same problems. It is a never ending cycle.


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:05 PM

Everyday tips – I’m just like your husband and it annoys the heck out of people sometimes, so I’m trying to dial it back a bit. I think when people hear advice they don’t want to implement, they just delay it and hope an easier solutions comes along later.


Money Reasons January 13, 2011 at 10:46 AM

I’ve been guilty of this in the past too! Another think I’m cutting back on is the “Oh that happened to me too” message I usually give when someone tells me a story about something that has happened to them. Surprisingly, it’s hard for me not to do this last one… 🙂

I think that if people followed your advice, they would add more value to a real solution to the problems other might be having. If you offer such value, is it possible that one may even gain the respect of others? (I’m guessing on that one).


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:09 PM

Money Reasons – yes, I’ve also caught myself trivializing someone’s problems with the “You think you have it bad, you should feel thankful you don’t live in Haiti.” Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t. In general I’m not a very sensitive person and I’m trying to work on it. I’ve got my psychology major friend that helps me with that stuff.


retirebyforty January 13, 2011 at 12:28 PM

I try to be polite when I receive unsolicited advice. I know they mean well and will try to look at it from their point of view.
My advice is this – don’t put half a pie in front of yourself. Hide it and cut out a small slice. 😀


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:10 PM

Rb40- Hey, I didn’t ask for that advice…just kidding.


Linda January 13, 2011 at 12:30 PM

I know I have to work more on my listening skills in general. That also means doing as you suggest and *not* assuming that someone coming to me with a problem is necessarily asking for advice. And at work I have to be doubly sure, because sometimes people really aren’t looking for advice they’re looking for you to take on their problem for them!

As for getting unsolicited advice, the way I handle it has much to do with the source. I’m not sure why I’m often more prickly about it with people I’m closer to than those I only know a bit. In other words: if somone is a stranger or acquaintenane I’m much more easy going about being polite (perhaps just saying “thank you” or something sort of non-commital) and just moving on. If it’s someone I’m closer to — such as a friend for many years or a family member — I’m much more likely to react badly to unsolicited advice. I guess I think they should know better than to shove their advice in my face. Again, this is an area in which I need to work!


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:12 PM

Linda – you are so right. I tend to not like receiving advice from my mother or other close relatives. I also take things to heart when someone I really respect gives me constructive criticism, like a manager or mentor. When it’s someone I don’t have close ties to, then it indeed is easier to have it go in one ear and out the other (with a small filter pulling out the relevant stuff).


Crystal January 13, 2011 at 12:53 PM

I started my first blog just so I could give out money advice without coming off as a jerk, lol. Now that I have somewhere online to vent, it is much easier to keep my mouth shut in “real” life. 🙂

When I receive advice from anybody but my parents, I take it as nicely as it can be intended and handle it well. When it’s from my parents, I seem to think it’s just being mean. I’m working on that…


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:15 PM

BFS – I think blogging provides a great outlet for people who like to be advice givers. If I feel like I can’t talk to someone directly about something because it won’t be heard, I can get it off my chest and write an article about it instead. I definitely agree with you and Linda…it’s really hard to listen to family members when they are trying to “help.”


The Lost Goat January 13, 2011 at 1:25 PM

I never offer advice to people unless they specifically ask me what I think they should do. In college, I lost a couple of good friendships before I realized that people generally have to see the consequences of their poor choices before they realize that they were poor. Also, even when it’s apparent to them that they made a poor choice, they don’t want to talk to the person who successfully predicted the choices’ consequences. Even when people ask for advice, they seldom want a candid assessment, so I try to be as gentle with my suggestions as possible.


Sandy L January 13, 2011 at 5:20 PM

The Lost Goat – I once helped my cousin plan a wedding to a guy I hated. Everyone hated this dude, but it wasn’t until I supported her decision and helped he plan the event that it opened her eyes to him. He kept blaming her family for their relationship problems. Once I started supporting her decision, she realized that it really wasn’t everyone else that was the problem but him.

You’re definitely right that people have to see things for themselves but it’s sometimes hard to watch someone go through the process.


eemusings January 13, 2011 at 8:23 PM

Ugh, we eat what we like and sometimes in copious quantities. Lately I’ve come to realise how scary it is how much time I spend cooking and thinking about food (especially on my days off!)

I’m lucky in that I have a fast metabolism and can live that way…but if that changes and I start having to watch my diet I will NOT be a happy camper. Self control is not my forte.


Sandy L January 15, 2011 at 6:07 AM

eemusings – working out is my only hope (ie, the fast metabolism). Food isn’t like other things because you just can’t quit cold turkey, you have to eat it multiple times a day. It makes it tough.


Lindy Mint January 14, 2011 at 8:40 AM

I always think that if someone comes to you with a problem, then giving them advice is automatically what they want. It’s a good reminder that that is not necessarily the case.

I don’t get upset if someone gives me advice if I come to them to vent. I just tune it out if I don’t agree with them or if I’m not ready for action. But what gets me is when strangers give unsolicited advice in public – like how I’m supposed to carry my baby, or anything about my kids. No thanks.


Sandy L January 15, 2011 at 6:10 AM

Lindy – that’s always been my default response too. Yeah, it’s annoying when people who don’t know you or your kids decides they know better. Every kid is different and need different things. A lot of people instantly don’t pass the “authority figure” test when it comes to child rearing. My daycare lady who’s raised hundreds of kids, well that’s another story…but even she does not give advice unless I ask her for it. She must have learned it’s a sensitive topic for a lot of moms.


Jennifer Barry January 16, 2011 at 4:07 PM

I’m with the Lost Goat in that I only give unsolicited advice on my blog. Well, I guess my husband gets some too. 🙂 I rarely even give advice when asked because people are usually not ready to hear what I have to say.

I had a friend once who claimed she wanted to leave her husband, and had all kinds of good reasons why. She asked for help on getting a job, a lawyer, etc. When I did this, it effectively called her bluff. She ended up reconciling with her husband and spurning me. I found out later this was a pattern that had been repeated 6-8 times.


Sandy L February 16, 2011 at 5:24 PM

Jennifer – yeah, a blog is a good outlet for that motherly instinct for advice giving. Sucky story about your friend.


Mel February 16, 2011 at 11:34 AM

I often have the opposite problem when it comes to giving advice – I’d love to be able to, but I just never know what to say!

My mum and sisters are great at the difference between venting and asking for advice. My MIL-to-be is lovely, but takes a lot of off-hand comments as requests for advice or help (although that did find us our new house – I can’t complain too much!).

My fiance though… he used to be terrible. I’d be half-way through venting and he’s already got the problem ‘solved’. He’s a lot better now, although I occasionally have to remind him “Just look like you’re listening, smile, nod and give me a hug when I’m done”. His next lesson: we work in the same industry, but he’s guru-like. So I often ask him for advice on some small problem, and the next thing I know he’s solving all the ‘problems’ I didn’t have… then he get frustrated when I tell him it’s enough! He’s getting more aware of that though, which is the first step. 🙂


Sandy L February 16, 2011 at 5:22 PM

Mel – My husband and I work at the same company, so he actually bans me from talking about work at home. He’s like it feels too much like work when you talk about work at home. It’s actually a pretty good rule. I like how you’re figuring out how to communicate better. I distinctly remember the time when my husband figured something out that was very basic about our personalities (he’s the tortoise and I’m the hare, he’s the detail down to the knats ass person, I’m the 80/20 rule person). Once we figured that stuff out it got so much easier to live together.

One of the things I’m really good at is problem solving and getting out of crisis situations, so I tend to gravitate towards dispensing advice a little too freely. I hold back now and it’s been better.


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: