Unsolicited advice – a gift or a slight?
At some point, or perhaps many points, in our lives, we receive unsolicited advice. Advice given to us can be well-meaning or maybe criticism in disguise, sometimes it is hard to tell which!
In truth, most of us generally don’t like receiving unsolicited opinions because it often feels critical rather than helpful, or may set off a hot button in us. When a person offers it, unpleasant feelings can escalate quickly into irritation, hostility, or anger.
This begs the question, why would anyone offer it given the risky responses possible?
The psychology of unsolicited advice
A study published in the National Library of Medicine concluded the basic reason for giving unsolicited advice is power. In effect their findings were twofold:
- Advice giving is an interpersonal behaviour that enhances individuals’ sense of power, and
- Those who seek power are motivated to engage in advice giving.
Does this finding that mean we should ignore all unsolicited advice?
Of course not! Many individuals offering advice are benevolent in motivation and may offer valuable insight which we should hear and consider. Let’s look at the skills necessary to both give and receive advice well.
Five alternative strategies when receiving unsolicited feedback
There are several options to handle unsolicited feedback, however, our response should be constructive to the situation.
Always consider the source
Always consider the source, and your relationship with that person before you respond. When it is a person, you’re unlikely to see again, offer a polite response and move on. If it’s a peer who rarely offers unwanted views, thank them, and reflect on the feedback before acting. If the peer often gives unsolicited opinions, then some clear boundaries should be set.
Before offering unsolicited advice yourself
Before setting off and offering unsolicited advice yourself, start with a very simple opener: “Would you like me to offer you some feedback?” This simple question allows the recipient to accept or decline without either person feeling slighted or defensive. You can then communicate your views with care and tact.
It is important that we do not reject all the advice we receive just because it is unsolicited. When the person offering it is well-meaning and informed, their suggestions can be quite helpful and useful. Considering the source is the most effective way of maximizing value, and relationships, at that moment.
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Give it a try!
Cartoon credit: Nina Paley, Mimi & Eunice