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The Slippery Slope of Giving Unsolicited Advice

If you take this advice, it might actually save a relationship/friendship or two.

Oh, the irony. Someone who gives advice on a personal development blog giving the advice to not give advice and then giving some more advice. Well, it has to be said. And there are better ways to helping others solve their problems.

Of course, there are different forms of advice and different situations. If your friend is asking for your advice, there’s nothing wrong with giving them advice. Even if they are coming to you with an issue in their life, sometimes, given the situation, it can be okay to give advice depending on how it’s delivered.

Here we’re talking about unsolicited advice. Giving advice when the receiver doesn’t want it or ask for it regardless, whether they “need” it or not.

5 Reasons to STOP Giving Unsolicited Advice.

1. They don’t want your advice.

This reason alone should be a good enough reason to not give someone advice. We should at least respect that. If they didn’t ask, they probably don’t want it. If they genuinely wanted our advice, they would’ve asked. A lot of times people just want to vent and just want someone to listen. They either already know what to do or there is no decision to be made.

In that case, regardless of whether they “need to hear it” or not “you should’ve or shouldn’t have done this” might not always be helpful and can, in fact, be harmful. 

Keep reading, you’ll see how harmful.

2. It assumes the other person does not have the knowledge or ability to handle the situation.

You gotta love when you tell someone you’re traveling to Europe and they respond with, “You know you should get a passport.” Wow. Really? Did I ask? Why does this person think I can’t figure that out myself?

When we tell someone what to do or what they should do, we’re unintentionally implying that we know better and that they’re emotionally or intellectually incapable of making that decision or knowing what to do in a particular situation.

It can be insulting to a lot of people if they feel as though their abilities are underestimated. And we, the almighty giver of advice, can sometimes end up looking like a fool.

Unsolicited advice is usually considered intrusive and can overstep boundaries. It can be patronizing and condescending. Giving advice can also be insensitive given certain situations. 

We, as humans, thirst for approval. When we are given unsolicited advice, we feel criticized, we take it as rejection. This can be painful for us—some more than others. Besides that, being told what to do automatically triggers defensiveness.

People don’t like being told what to do. Me included. That’s partially why I love being an entrepreneur – being my own boss. Raise your hand if you’re a fellow entrepreneur loving the journey of figuring it out and having the freedom to ask for advice when you need it!

I digress. Back to it…

Depending on the advice, we can also be implying that the person needs to be saved or fixed. They may also feel judged because their decisions that were advised against were wrong. Judging the actions and decisions that person made. No one likes to be told they’re wrong either. It’s also telling them that you know better than they do. 

3. Unsolicited advice can damage your relationships.

There are four types of social supportemotional supportesteem support, informational support, and tangible support. Informational support is just a fancy term for advice giving (not to be confused with information advice). Which types of support are more effective and least effective in supporting someone have been studied.

Regarding relationships and marriage, research on marital satisfaction and support conducted by Erika Lawrence at the University of Iowa found that too much advice (informational support) is worse than no support at all. Informational support was also the most detrimental form of support. Romantic partners want empathy, validation, and appreciation first and foremost. 

It also weakens communication. It can often end the conversation because the person feels judged and defensive.

4. Research has also found that receiving advice makes us feel less confident in ourselves and our abilities.

People are more likely to fail depending on how the advice is given. First of all, the decreased confidence can be destabilizing for those struggling with reaching their goal. 

Many people can see advice as an attack. You’re not only challenging their competency and self-efficacy but their personal freedom to figure it out themselves as well.

Traditional advice (do this, do that) helps to persuade someone to agree with you, but it barely helps them learn and grow. Someone becoming angry and upset with you is not going to help them. It can actually create more problems.

But, bearing and taking responsibility for one’s own life leads to tremendous growth.

5. Very few people will follow through and act on unsolicited advice. 

Even if it is excellent advice. Because of reactance theory, people will react with defensive defiance. Their personal freedom is being threatened, and they’ll want to make the best of their independent decision making. It stops the creative brainstorming that may lead to learning something new.

It’s kind of like what people sometimes like to call “reverse psychology.” People will do the opposite of what they’re told to do. I bet we can all think of several times in our lives when we rebelled for no other reason than someone told us what to do. 

Keep in mind, I’m someone who enjoys helping others. 

I’m conscious of when I’m giving advice. I make sure to listen. 

As part of my coach training, I was trained to not give advice but instead to support and partner with people to help them find their best answers. 

THIS. IS. HARD.

So many times, I think, I know the answer and I literally have to put my hand over my mouth to keep quiet. And then something amazing happens. This amazing person I’m coaching, finds the answer, the solution, the awareness, the aha. And you know what, that answer was NOT what I thought it was. 

I truly believe that everyone is capable of finding their best way. And if their best way is asking me for advice then I give it. 

If I have something I want to share, be it a past experience or piece of knowledge, you know what I do before I share?

I ask for permission to share. Yup. Ask for permission. 

We all have ego’s and they get the best of us. No matter our good intentions, the desire to be the hero, to save someone, to be right, only serves to feed our ego. That is not helpful to anyone. 

7 things to Do Instead of Giving Advice

1. Listen.

Just be present and really hear the person out. Listening doesn’t just involve not saying anything. It requires actively listening. If we’re in our own head waiting to say something, we’re not listening. If we have internal dialogue going on, we’re not listening.

2. Ask Questions.

Fully try to understand the situation and place yourself in that person’s position. You don’t know everything. You can’t read their mind either. Ask them how they feel about it, why they feel or think that way, what they want to happen, what they’re going to do, etc. 

People want to be acknowledged. Acknowledge their feelings, the struggle. 

Help guide them through it. Instead of taking the authoritative and dominant position of telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, help them be the ones to solve their own problems. That way when they encounter future similar issues they are better able to tackle it. 

It gives them a sense of independence and responsibility as well. It gives them the freedom to make their own decisions.

3. Show Empathy.

If it came down to just one thing to do instead of giving advice, it would be this. Even for those who wish to give advice. Empathy is essential. I can’t stress the importance of empathy enough.

In several studies, psychiatrist David Burns found, using advanced statistical techniques for distinguishing cause and effect, that a therapist’s ability to empathize is not only positively correlated with a patient’s progress but contributes to it as well. In other words, therapists’ empathy is a causation to the success of patients, not just a correlation.

Another study found that support is more likely to be effective when the person giving the support has higher empathic accuracy which is how accurate someone can understand another person’s thoughts and feelings.

4. Give Emotional Support

This type of support can also include physical support like a hug or pat on back.

Another study on support by psychologists Lorenzo, Barry, and Khalifian at the Universities of Maryland and Wyoming analyzed the differences between emotional support and informational support. They found that people who receive emotional support feel better and have higher relationship satisfaction. For most people, emotional support is their preferred support to receive. Overall, emotional support over offering and giving solutions makes couples happier. Researchers suggest to default to emotional support rather than informational support to keep the doors of communication open.

5. Show confidence in them and their judgment that they are able to do what’s best for them.

People are the experts of their own lives. Expressing confidence in them will help give them confidence in themselves. Sometimes that’s all a person needs, and they will appreciate you for that. This can also be considered esteem support and often leads people to start believing in themselves more.

Someone being able to work through a situation and make a decision on their own, especially a tough one, can really help them grow and learn. We can’t learn and grow if someone is always making decisions for us.

6. Consider your situation and past life experiences.

If we don’t completely understand or have any experience or actual researched knowledge in their situation, it’s better to just be there for comfort, validation, and emotional support. Know that you can be a really great friend without having to give any advice whatsoever.

A lot of times someone just needs someone to talk to. That’s it.

What works for you or is right for you might not work or be right for another.

7. Consider other options and viewpoints than the one you have in mind.

Know that there is not one thing we know 100% of. We all have blind spots. There might be things that you’re overlooking or haven’t considered or thought of.

What piece or pieces of all this unsolicited advice are you going to follow?

Want to learn more on how to build and protect your confidence?

Grab your free guide: The Habit of Self-Doubt: Crush It and Build Real Confidence

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