As soon as I wrote the title for this article, I knew it would be controversial. Not quite at the level of politics, religion, gun control, or abortion, but controversial nonetheless. We’re taught to avoid giving unsolicited advice, and for good reason. It can come across as rude, invasive, condescending, stuck-up… and so on. Unsolicited advice makes the receiving party feel icky.
I’m not here to dispute the negative side of unsolicited advice. But here’s the point on which the rest of the post is based.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever given wasn’t asked for.
Yep, I’ve done it. And you know what? I’d do it again (and have). You could even say I’m #sorrynotsorry.
Want to know how to give the occasional nugget of unsolicited wisdom while mitigating the risk of being punched in the face? Here are five steps to follow.
Understand Your Motive
Why do you want to give this advice you feel is so desperately needed? Take some time to think about your answer, stop, and ask yourself the question again. If, at this point, you’re still searching for the right reason to give unsolicited advice – don’t do it.
Remember, you’re considering doing something that hardly anyone deems acceptable. The potential is great for you to turn off, upset, or anger the person you’re genuinely trying to help. So you must make absolutely sure you know why you’re about to do it.
Lose the Ego
It’s important to remember that the advice you give may or may not be helpful – or heck, even good. Remind yourself that you don’t know everything and don’t possess all the wisdom in the world. (Shocking, I know.) Removing your ego from the equation will help you determine the basis of your advice. Do you have something to offer that stems from greater expertise or experience? Are you qualified to vomit your divine wisdom all over this poor, unexpecting soul, or are you just looking for another opportunity to hear yourself talk?
Letting go of your ego also ensures your advice isn’t clouded by judgment or condescension (more about that below).
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS
If the person you’re about to advise is going through a situation that calls for advice, it’s likely they’re already somewhat distressed. So pay special attention to the words you choose. Focus on positive affirmations, using an encouraging and uplifting tone while remaining realistic.
The more emotionally charged someone is over a decision, the more critical it is for you to be empathetic. Without empathy, it won’t matter if you’re the world’s leading expert on the subject. It just won’t resonate.
But don’t get too friendly. you must strike a careful balance between making someone like you and asserting your authority.1
I struggle with this BIG time – guilty, party of one. I mean, I have a real severe case. Compassion and a delicate “bedside manner” are not personality traits that were naturally bestowed on me. And yet, as much as I’m aware of this shortcoming, I still (consistently) stumble.
Lest we harp on this any longer, remember that no matter how honorable your intentions, the receiving party is doubtful to hear, let alone heed your advice, if you snuff the delivery. Get this wrong, and you’ve doubly screwed up in the receiver’s eyes. You vomit your “unsolicited brilliance” all over their favorite cashmere sweater while making them feel even worse about their situation.
So don’t be scared, don’t back-peddle, but accept the stark reality that this step is crucial. It’s the make or break.
Remove the Judgement
If you’ve checked your ego before offering advice, you’ll stand the best chance of doing so “judgment-free.” So instead, be hyper-focused on the fact that this person whom you’re about to “enlighten” with your unsolicited advice is likely already feeling vulnerable and discouraged.
While giving unsolicited advice may be considered a no-no by most people, it’s well accepted that judging others is a no-no by all people (even though we continually do it).
Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.
– Marcus Aurelius
Instead of saying, “You should have,” or “Why didn’t you…?” realize what’s done is done, and focus on what they can do or change right now. Try something like, “It might help to consider….” Then, offer your support along the path.
No one can achieve great things alone. We all need help. One of the most incredible things you can offer someone is the reassurance you’ll be there for the long haul. It doesn’t matter so much whether you have all the answers. More often than not, people know what’s right for them; they simply want to feel validated and supported. No matter how good your advice is, it’s unlikely to resonate if the receiving party doesn’t feel it’s coming from a genuine place of concern.
Nothing has more potential to backfire than barking your unsolicited advice from your high horse, immediately galloping off, and leaving your “friend” behind to figure it all out. At the same time, they choke on the dust you kick up as you ride off into the sunset.
If they need a role model to help them through their struggle, be that role model. If they need someone to hear them while they figure out how to work through their issue, be that listening ear.
1 | How to Give Good Advice That People Follow (Tyler Tervooren, Riskology)