Mom just called and said she thinks you look tired, that you’re working way too hard. You groan and roll your eyes. Secretly, you wish she’d keep her opinions to herself.
Unsolicited advice comes from all sources. Family members, coworkers, siblings, neighbors and bosses are all known to opine about our decisions, behavior or standards. Even total strangers can volunteer their two cents.
Sometimes we have to listen and do what we’re told. When Dad explains how to mow the lawn, he’s not asking for his teen’s input.
At other times, the guidance is completely unwarranted, as when a well-meaning person at the gym pats a pregnant woman’s belly and says, “I don’t think you should be working out this close to your due date.”
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Although its intention is to be helpful, unsolicited advice implies an imbalance of power and knowledge. The speaker subtly conveys the notion, “I know more than you do. You’ll be better off if you do as I say.”
In fact, unsolicited advice occurs most often in situations where there’s an existing hierarchy, whether explicit or inferred. At least one member of the relationship feels superior to the other and is therefore entitled to opine. For example, a mother-in-law may feel justified in telling her son’s wife how to discipline her toddler.
Even if the partners previously viewed themselves as equals, unsolicited advice creates an instant Iknow-more-than-you-do dynamic that puts the recipient in defense mode.
It’s the implication that you can’t run your life that makes unwelcome opinions so annoying. Rather than being helpful, they elicit feelings of incompetence and hostility. Recipients feel they’re being controlled. They may hearken back to their childhoods when they felt small, helpless, stupid or inept. They want to ignore the recommendation altogether or lash back with irritation.
The amount of annoyance is often directly proportional to the number of times suggestions have been made.
It’s easy to shrug off unwanted input if it happens only once. When it occurs on an ongoing basis, repercussions are likely to ensue.
Advice givers are sometimes puzzled at the negative pushback to their help. A frustrated sister rationalizes, “I was only concerned about my sister’s weight.” A father complains, “He’s always been so sensitive to everything I say.”
No doubt, hypersensitivity can be a factor. Still, if your opinion hasn’t been sought, it’s best to keep it to yourself. No matter how well meaning, it’s apt to rub someone the wrong way.
HOW TO HANDLE UNWANTED ADVICE
Shrug it off. Don’t take it seriously. Recognize everyone’s entitled to a viewpoint.
Consider the source. Some folks are known to make outrageous statements. Others have no idea what they’re talking about. Identify whom to tune out and do it as often as necessary.
Come up with a pat answer. If you’re regularly asked the same question, such as “Why don’t you have children?” devise some catchy response that neutralizes the situation and redirects the conversation. (“Kids aren’t for us. How about you? Do you have children?”)
Be pleasant. There’s no need to be abrasive. Most people think they’re being helpful.
State your case. Sometimes it’s best to stand up for yourself: “I’m putting out job applications every day. I have six interviews lined up next week.”
Listen to your own response. If you’re overreacting to someone’s advice, try to understand why. Devise strategies that will minimize your angst.
Consider following the advice. Unsolicited advice may not be welcome, but it may be the right thing to do. Don’t disregard it just because you didn’t think of it.