It is tempting to offer unsolicited advice. Knowledge and solutions take a long time to learn. However, unsolicited advice typically inspires a defensive reaction, since people need to maintain their autonomy in life and decision-making. Unless specifically asked, it is usually better to keep your advice to yourself. Instead, focus on modeling the behaviors you want to see in the world and reflect on the reasons for wanting to share your advice.
EditEvaluating Your Intentions
- Understand the difference between having an opinion and being opinionated. While you may sometimes think that you are innocently expressing your opinion, understand that other people might take it as forceful or judgmental advice. It can be helpful to know the difference between expressing an opinion and being too opinionated so that you can avoid these situations.
- An opinion is merely a belief or idea that is based on preference instead of hard fact. An example of an opinion is “I’m not a fan of that television show. I don’t think it is very funny.”
- An opinionated person is very rigid about their opinions. Instead of expressing their preferences, they state their personal opinions as facts. They often do not allow others to express dissimilar opinions or ideas. They might become critical or judgmental. For example, an opinionated person might say, “That TV show is so stupid. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to watch it. The humor is so dumb. It must only appeal to a caveman.”
- Determine whether you are coming from a place of altruism. Think about whether you want to help the person you have a desire to offer unsolicited advice. Although your motivation may be well intentioned, you should know that even advice coming from an altruistic place usually backfires. If you offer unsolicited advice for altruistic reasons, people may become defensive in order to maintain their personal freedom and life choices.
- For example, you may be worried about the health of a friend who smokes cigarettes. If you start offering them unsolicited advice about how to stop smoking, they may get defensive of their lifestyle. It won’t help that your advice is coming from a good place, since you are failing to respect their lifestyle and personal choices.
- Keep your cool if you want to give advice out of excitement. If you are really excited about a new life hack or solution to something in your life, you may have a desire to share it with others. However, you should keep in mind that your friends, colleagues and family members may need to come up with their own solutions to life problems. It is probably better to keep your advice to yourself, unless they ask for it explicitly.
- Stop yourself from giving advice if you are annoyed. It can be annoying to hear about the same problem from a friend or a colleague for years while having some resolutions in your mind. Although empathy and listening attentively is a lot of work, it is better to continue listening to the same old problems than to start offering unsolicited advice. You don’t know what situations may hinder your friend from taking the solution or advice you want to offer.
- Avoid pontificating. If you have a desire to pontificate about particular subjects, try to remember this tendency and take note of its effects on others. You may notice that it doesn’t always have a great reception, in which case you may want to stop offering unwanted advice to people.
- Listen with an open mind. If you are in a face to face conversation, face the person, maintain eye contact and listen with an open mind to what they are saying. Likewise, if you are on the phone, listen attentively with an open mind. Try to just comprehend what they are saying.
- Acknowledge what they are saying. To assure them that you are actively listening to their story, you can nod your head in affirmation. You could also say, “uh huh.” Where appropriate, you can offer affirmations such as “thanks for sharing” or “that makes sense.”
- Empathize instead of giving unsolicited advice. If your intention is to make friends, perhaps you should try simply listening to the person. If you offer unsolicited advice, they may react negatively and it could defeat your purpose. Instead of offering advice, try listening and then making empathetic nods or making the following kinds of statements:
- “I understand, tell me more”
- “That sounds hard, I’m sorry to hear you had that experience”
- Ask if you have understood them correctly. After they have finished speaking, you could try making a comment or question for the purpose of recapping what they have said. This will ensure you have understood them correctly. Try recapping and then asking if your recap of their story is a correct interpretation:
- “What I understand from what you have just told me is that you feel terribly about what happened to John and you want to do something about it. Do I understand you correctly?”
- “From what I understand, you really want to fix your relationship with Sue, which seems to have gone south since Christmas. And the issue seems to be partly the long distance but also these other things you were talking about. Am I getting this right?”
EditKnowing When and How to Offer Advice
- Stop trying to fix their problems. Consider dropping your own assessments of their problem and related ideas about how to fix things. Instead, consider ways you could be more empathetic. For instance, consider letting go of your desire to fix their problem and try to understand the details of their situation.
- You may not agree with their interpretation of their situation, but you should still listen attentively and try to understand them.
- Try to understand their state of affairs. Often, unsolicited advice comes from a place of not adequately understanding the situation or challenge that another person is going through. To move beyond this problem, you could try to understand and empathize with the challenge that they are going through. It might help to ask them clarifying questions:
- “Can you tell me a little more about that?”
- “That sounds really tough. I’m not sure I understand how you got into that situation. Can you remind me how that happened?”
- Ask how you can help. After listening attentively, you can ask them directly how you could help out. They may simply say that you are helping by offering an attentive ear. If they need something specific, they may tell you. If they are specifically looking for advice, they will have the opportunity to ask you for it. Try saying:
- “I’m here anytime you need me. Really, anything you need.”
- “What can I do to help?”
- Give advice if they specifically ask for it. Advice that is specifically requested is much more appreciated than unsolicited advice. If you are called upon to give advice, you can go ahead and offer your two cents on how to resolve the situation. Give advice if they ask the following kinds of questions:
- “I really need advice on how to resolve this situation with my brother. I’m at a loss right now. Do you have any experience that would help?”
- “Have you ever dealt with a family member dealing with depression? Do you have any advice based on that experience?”
- Talk to them if they are at risk of self harm. Rather than telling them specific things to do, you should convey your care for them and listen to their problems. You shouldn’t promise to keep any secrets, since you may have to convey the information to a mental health professional. Listen with attentive ears to everything they have to say and try to be there for them.
- If there is an emergency, you should call 911 and wait until help arrives.