I’m not exactly sure why people feel compelled to give unsolicited (unsolicited is the key word here) advice. Are they really trying to help you? Or is it because they need to feel valued? Do they think you are incapable of figuring out how to do something on your own? Or, are they trying to put you in your place of less than (either consciously or subconsciously)? Regardless of the reason, let’s break down advice in general and more importantly, how to handle unsolicited advice when it’s provided.
Advice vs Feedback
While the terms advice and feedback are often used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference. At its core, advice is providing a recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct (Merriam-Webster). Advice can come in all forms, from the well-regarded aunt providing advice on marriage to the grocery store clerk who feels compelled to tell you how to raise your kids.
Feedback is the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about a specific event, action, or process, as well as overall work performance (Merriam-Webster). Feedback is often used in the workplace to evaluate a specific project or overall work performance.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on personal advice that may come from friends, family, co-workers, customers, and even random strangers.
Ways Others Tell You How to Live Your Life
We all have well-meaning friends and family members who feel compelled to give us unsolicited advice on virtually everything. If we’re talking about our diet, someone is there to tell us what we should do differently – “Have you tried Keto? What about Weight Watchers? Maybe go Vegan? You should definitely work out more.”
Child-rearing? Hell, everyone has an opinion on that, even (maybe especially) people who don’t have children.
“You should be more strict.”
“Maybe let them have more free time.”
“Keep them busy all the time.”
“Teach them how to fight and take care of themselves.”
“Teach them strong verbal skills and how to vocalize their feelings.”
“Build up their confidence.”
“They need to learn how to handle failure.”
It’s a never-ending list of contradictions.
How about advice on how to live your life?
“Are you making a lot of money? You need to make as much money as you can.”
“A job is just that, a job. You don’t need to enjoy it.”
“You should do what you love.”
“Travel more. Have more experiences.”
“Save money. You’ll be glad you did when you’re my age.”
“You can’t take it with you. Enjoy your life now while you can.”
It’s one thing when you are asking someone you value and trust for advice on a particular topic – like asking a coach how you can improve your performance or even a trusted friend or family member on a situation you are dealing with at home. Even then, you don’t have to take the advice. But it’s another thing altogether when you are sharing events and thoughts with a friend, family member, or complete stranger, and they feel compelled to give you advice that you didn’t ask for. How do you handle this graciously without encouraging them to give you even more unsolicited advice?
Related Article: When Others Don’t Support Your Decisions
The Purpose Behind the Advice
Some of us are very analytical and we can get wrapped up in “What was their intent in telling me that?” Literally, we can spend hours (or days) analyzing and wondering if they were trying to belittle us, be helpful, upset us, or piss us off. This is especially true when we weren’t expecting advice or feedback.
Depending on the advice being provided, unsolicited advice can be considered rude – it assumes you don’t have a brain, can’t make good decisions, and don’t know how to research a topic. Remember “unsolicited” is the key here.
Some people do what has been done to them so they think that is the thing to do. That’s what their parents, bosses, and friends did so hey, it must be just what we do in relationships. They just don’t know any better. People gave them advice and they think that’s what people are supposed to do when they care about others.
Many people sincerely want to be helpful and wish someone had told them some of the things they had to learn the hard way.
And then there are the people who need to feel better about themselves (i.e. provide value to others) and one way to do that is to inadvertently make others feel worse.
Does it really matter why they are providing the advice? When someone is murdered and we don’t know the motive, it doesn’t change the fact they were murdered. You don’t need to spend time analyzing the reason because, honestly, you’ll never know for sure which one it is. You just need to figure out what to do with this information now that you have it.
Tips for Dealing with Unsolicited Advice
Following are a few quick and easy tips. Use the tips that work with your personality (i.e. what you are comfortable with) and fit according to your relationship with this person. Obviously, if it’s a family member and you don’t want to completely destroy the relationship, you aren’t going to say something that does that.
- Listen to the advice and determine if it is something of value to you. (Hey, if you can learn from others for free, do it). If it’s of value, ask more questions. I’ve got two other articles you might be interested in on this topic: How to be More Curious about . . .Everything, and Problem-Solving: Asking Better Questions.
- If it isn’t of value and it’s not overtly offensive, say something like “I appreciate the advice. I’ll consider that.” This ensures if their motive was to be helpful, you are accepting their “gift” without telling them what you plan to do with it. It’s also kind and avoids any potential conflict. Maybe most importantly, it doesn’t commit you to take the advice.
- If you feel comfortable being a little more firm in your approach, you can add a “Thank you for the advice. I will be doing X instead.” This sets clear boundaries that you have considered the options and made a conscious decision to do it the way you plan.
- If it is a topic you’d rather not be discussing with this person, change the subject and focus on asking them questions about themself. They’ll quit thinking about your perceived flaws in no time.
- If it is overtly offensive or negative advice, don’t be afraid to tell them you don’t want or need that in your life.
- Quit telling them things they tend to give you unsolicited advice about. For example, if they tend to always give you child-rearing advice, quit talking about your kids with this person. . . even when they ask how the kids are doing. Keep it short and sweet – “The kids are great.”
- Maybe the best solution is to have a conversation with this person and say, “I want to share my life with you but I don’t need you to fix my problems. I just need you to listen. If I need advice, I’ll ask for it. I do need your friendship. Will that arrangement work for you?” By asking that final question, they are committing to adhering to your boundary. If the answer is no, you have a decision to make about the relationship. You might also want to check out this article: Setting Healthy Boundaries in Your Relationships.
It’s important to realize, you don’t owe this person any explanation. You don’t need to explain why you aren’t taking their feedback or why you are doing it the way you are. It’s your life, your decision, and as long as you are an adult, you can learn and do things any way you want. We often feel like we have to explain ourselves but you don’t. You didn’t ask for their advice and you owe them nothing.
I hope this post helped. If you have other ways you have handled unsolicited feedback, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!