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Have you ever been minding your own business and then BAM, someone hits you in the head with unwanted feedback on your life?
It's like walking into a brick wall in the middle of a conversation.
Rather than hope it never happens again, it's important to figure out why people do this in the first place.
This article will review some examples of unsolicited advice, followed by some strategies you can use to veer away from this uncomfortable situation.
Why Do People Give Unsolicited Advice?
I should start by saying that I'm 100% guilty of giving unwanted advice.
For whatever reason, boys are raised to be "fixers" in their lives, and they grow up seeing men feeling the need to save the day and immediately eliminate problems for others.
I also love to learn. I've read countless self-help books and listened to hours upon hours of personal-development podcasts.
It makes me want to share what I learn.
The problem is that most situations don't need to be fixed, and people don't usually want to get information--whether it's helpful or not--when it's unsolicited information.
Most people just want to be heard when whey they speak.
They want to be surrounded by others who understand them and see them for who they are.
But that goes again several human drives, which we will turn to next with these common scenarios and examples of unwanted advice.
1. People want to appear helpful or useful
One of the main reasons people give advice that hasn't been asked for is to appear useful.
People would rather do something than nothing even if the best response to a situation is to do nothing.
This is known as the politician's syllogism.
One doesn't want to appear helpless, and many people mistake inaction for helplessness.
Unsolicited Advice Example:
Person 1: I have so many things to do, and I don't know what to do next.
Person 2: Why don't you just pick something and do it?
Person 1: Well, I'm trying to figure out what's most important. I'm just really stressed out. Maybe I just need to think about it some more. That usually works.
Person 2: Nah, just do something. You'll figure it out.
2. People don't know how to deal with uncomfortable or awkward conversations
This is a big one.
I'm guilty of it, and you probably are as well.
It can be awkward to sit in silence.
But, as I learned working in the mental health field, silence can be one of the best tools you have to empower a relationship.
Silence creates space for others to fill with words.
More importantly, it gives people time to say not what immediately comes to mind, but the deeper truths that have been percolating beneath the surface.
Unsolicited Advice Example:
Person 1: This always reminds me of when my Mom died. It's hard to stay focused.
Person 2: Oh no, I'm sorry.
Person 1: Yeah, I wish she were still here...I just wish...
Person 2: OK...well then how about focusing on something else to take your mind off it? Why don't you try to read a book? I always do that when I'm missing someone.
3. Sometimes, it stems from others' low self-esteem and insecurities
This is related to reason number one above.
Often, giving advice is a way for people to feel better about themselves.
Most people don't want to admit that they don't know something, so they blather about whatever comes to mind.
They think that if they're giving advice, they must be providing value.
This reminds me of an acronym that I first heard at conferences and large group discussions: W.A.I.T, or "Why am I talking?"
In spaces with diverse perspectives, one person should not dominate the conversation. It's much better to allow the flow of diverse voices to meld together and produce something greater than the sum of the parts.
Unsolicited Advice Example:
Person 1: I'm feeling like Derek doesn't understand me. He never seems to be listening when I talk to him, and then he talks over me when I'm still trying to say something.
Person 2: At least you have a relationship. You should feel lucky about that. You've never had to try very hard like other people. Why don't you focus on that?
4. Occasionally, you'll meet someone who breathes the air of superiority
It's unfortunate, but there are some people in this world who think they are better than you.
They think that, just by virtue of being alive, everyone should bow down to their greatness.
This is not useful. It's narcissism and arrogance.
Unsolicited Advice Example:
Person 1: I just don't know what to do with my life. I wish I could figure it all out.
Person 2: Well, if you just did what I did, you'd probably be happy. I just pause and think for a minute whenever I'm stuck. It works for me, and it should work for anyone who tries it. It's really not that hard to do.
How to Deal With Unwanted Advice to Protect Your Mental Health
1. Remember that it's not about you
When people give you advice that you didn't ask for, it's important to remember that it's not your fault.
You didn't cause this.
You didn't ask for words of "wisdom."
Each person has their own approach to advice, and it's usually a combination of their life experiences and genetic makeup.
You can't influence if someone gives you advice in the first place. All you can do is choose how you respond.
2. Try to redirect the conversation
One way to respond is to try to redirect the comments you're getting.
It can be helpful to change the subject by gently guiding the conversation in another direction.
Veer to a topic the person may not know as much about.
You can also simply acknowledge the advice with a short "uh huh" and move on.
But, as the advice recipient, consider the relationship as well.
If it's advice from friends you've known for a while, maybe it's worth saying something about it.
If it's advice from a neighbor you only see once a month, it's probably best to just ignore it and talk about something else.
Another way to get out of an advice-giving situation is to ask the other person questions.
Asking questions gets people to start thinking about themselves and their own lives again. It's a quick way to redirect a conversation.
3. Set boundaries
This one comes down to the type of advice you are getting.
As I'm sure you know, there is fleeting, innocuous advice, and then there is advice that hits you like a sudden downpour.
Innocent advice is a close friend trying to cheer you up by suggesting that you go for a walk together.
Bad advice is the type of advice that touches on sensitive subjects, such as whether or not you are planning to have a child or what kinds of hobbies you should pursue in your spare time.
Those are none of people's business.
If you're getting this type of advice, it's best to set boundaries.
You can clearly state that certain topics are off-limits.
Decide for yourself which people are your "safe" people, meaning which people you are willing to talk about sensitive topics with.
Doing this thinking beforehand will make it so that you arent' caught off-guard.
When someone who is not on your safe list starts to lecture you, use clear, declarative statements such as "I don't want to talk about this" or "I keep this kind of thing private, thank you."
Another option is to say, "I know you're trying to help me out, but I'm not looking for advice right now. I just need to talk through some things."
Another option is to stop talking, plain and simple.
Interestingly enough, being quiet sends a loud signal that you want to move on from the current topic of conversation.
4. Learn the great power of reflection and reflective listening
One of the best ways to improve your relationships is to learn about two little things called reflection and reflective listening.
Reflection is when, rather than reactively responding to whatever another person says, you consider what's behind the words and respond to that instead.
This could be the emotion, or emotions, hidden beneath the surface, or it could be the body language or tone with which the words are spoken.
Carefully listening to both what is said and not said is how you pick up on the real nature of the conversation.
It allows you to respond, "I could be wrong, but I'm sensing some irritation with how I'm spending my time" or "I hear frustration in your voice" rather than "You always tell me what to do" or "Why do you always lecture me?"
The first two comments open the space for the person to check in with how they're feeling. They draw them out of their advice bubble and get them to reflect on their words as well.
The second two comments pin blame and can start a battle of "You" statements, which almost always end up in a conversational tug-of-war.
5. If all else fails, reconsider your relationship
And remember, if you've tried everything you can, and you're still the advice recipient in a made-for-TV drama you never auditioned for, you have the right to move on.
No relationship is worth being a punching bag. Conversations are meant to be a free exchange of ideas, not a listening session of your own shortcomings.