Musing: How to Give Unsolicited Advice

I’m musing again still.

The Wall Street Journal had a headline a few weeks ago: How to Give Unsolicited Advice Without Being Annoying.

I was intrigued. Who wouldn’t be?

 

Thank you, Charles Schulz

 

Turns out  I needed a subscription to find out their answer, so I turned to the next best thing — I mused, How does one give unsolicited advise without being annoying? 

That went no where, so then I wondered, What is it about getting unsolicited advice that is so annoying. 

Has unasked for advise ever been welcomed? Have we ever once heard, “Oh, thank you. I had no idea.” Or, “I really appreciate your telling me this. Thank you.”

That question was then replaced quickly by the far more intriguing (to me), What is it about giving unsolicited advice that is so compelling, so irresistible, so affirming? 

Don’t we all just love to give advise?

 

Thank you, again, Charles Schulz

 

Back when I gave conscious unsolicited advice (not to be confused with that which one just blurts out, even from our best intentioned self) I felt I had superior knowledge, information, or experience. And when my children were teens, pre-teens, seven or eight, around four, they acknowledged this was true and were, as I recall, appropriately appreciative.

They are now in their forties and I know they can figure their life out on their own. In fact, I now often go to them for advise.  Jon gets my financial spur of the moment “should I or shouldn’t I” questions (he tends to redirect my impulsive streak) while Dave gets my nature questions (“Can I clean out the blue bird house now or should I wait?”).

It took a few years, but I finally learned that though I was convinced my advise would actually help (i.e., my intentions were honorable), what I was essentially saying is , “I can do it better; I know about this more than you; I can teach you.”

On the receiving end, unsolicited advise, let’s be honest, feels invasive, intrusive, and unwanted, no matter how well-intentioned.

So now I’m back to musing on the giving. What is it about our individualistic culture that teaches us that each individual must do their best, be their best, stand out, succeed, improve?  The list goes on. So many questions, so little . . .

In some of the more communal cultures I’ve visited or lived in, unsolicited advice is accepted as normal, helpful, even welcome.  Is it that they want everyone to be better?  (I muse.)

Advise giving surely is a culturally embedded phenomenon. And in this “European American culture,” within which I dwell, we tend to hold personal autonomy above community well-being. That rugged individualism rearing up once again.

Think of that next time someone snarls at your well-meaning though unasked for advice. Just respond with, “you’re being so Western in your thinking right now.”  Or “How very individualistic of you.”

Yeah. They’ll love that.

How about you? What’s your take on giving (or getting) unsolicited advice?  

 

17 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Just asked my grandson how to sync my Fitbit to my iPhone when the connection broke. He fixed it! My son expounds on how hard it is to raise teenagers, iterating the advice he gives his kids. Then I remind him of the “advice” we gave him at the same stage. He smiles.

    When you mention European American culture, I suppose you referring to yourself personally. I not sure the phrase fits collectively.

    Good musing today, Janet! 🙂
    Marian Beaman recently posted…School Opens: Aunt Ruthie’s Diary SpeaksMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      We all need a live-in 12 year old to help us with those techy issues as they arise. But then, I know how to write in cursive and they don’t! Thanks for starting us off, Marian.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Musing: How to Give Unsolicited AdviceMy Profile

  2. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I try to avoid giving unsolicited advice because I don’t enjoy receiving it. It’s been a long time since I’ve done it, and a long time since anyone’s tried it with me. Good things, both!

  3. Raegan
    | Reply

    As my children are older now, I try to remember how much I dislike getting unsolicited advice and I think it boils down to the fact that this type of advice tends to make me feel like a complete idiot. It ends up making me feel totally incompetent so when I open my mouth to give it I really need to check myself. I’ve told the kids if they want my advice, just ask otherwise I will try to stay out of it. For now I just ask what can I do to help. However it doesn’t always happen (I’ve been known to butt in where I’m not necessarily invite to butt in).
    Funny advice story showing that some just sticks with you no matter what. My brother cursed at my husband when his kids were small due to some unsolicited advice which was “don’t say no to your kids just because your lazy”. Funny part is that my husband didn’t even remember saying it to him lol. Great post!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks for sharing that Raegan, and welcome. I recall my mother-in-law constantly advising both me and her son; both of us feeling quite criticized in the process. We’d even tell her how her advice landed, but to no avail. She was committed to giving it. Compelled even. Curious.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Musing: How to Give Unsolicited AdviceMy Profile

  4. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    Great article! ME? Steer clear of giving unsolicited advice… BUT, I do like to share personal stories of YIKES–my own life in hopes of planting seeds. 🙂
    Bette Stevens recently posted…NEW BOOK IN SERIES (Prehistoric Fiction) Against All Odds by Jacqui MurrayMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Planting seeds, I like that. And not being attached them them sprouting. I think that must be my philosophy, though I hadn’t realized it until now. So, thank you for that, Bette. And for stopping by. I love to hear your stories. Plant away. 🙂
      Janet Givens recently posted…Musing: How to Give Unsolicited AdviceMy Profile

  5. Jenny C.
    | Reply

    Quick test: I know it’s unsolicited advice but… I usually advise people to spell advice with a “c” – unless you’ve been advised otherwise, of course! In which case, just take it under advisement and I’ll try to keep my advice to myself in the future.

    [My editing/proofreading hat sometimes lands upon my head without warning. My well-intentioned comments can certainly be deleted, if you prefer. And, if so, I’m sorry; being apologetic is a natural Canadian reaction to almost anything, as you likely know.]

    XO
    J
    Jenny C. recently posted…My first novel will be coming out soon!My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Excellent point, there Jenny. And while I’ll not go searching for any errant Cs or Ss, I will simply note that you, like Darlene, non-Americans both, have a different take on giving (and receiving) advice than the average American. Along with our pounds and miles (our inches and ounces) and backward dates, I shall add our offense at unsolicited advice. Fascinating! (to me; I’m such a culture geek).

  6. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    Aren’t we as senior members of society, supposed to impart the knowledge we have gained over the years? I have had my children scold me for not giving them some advice that would have been useful to them. I also have younger friends who are happy to have learned something from me. Even when people need advice, they don’t always ask for it. I too appreciate words of wisdom from another person. I suppose maybe it is how it is given that can be annoying at times.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Perfect, Darlene. I think you’ve just proved my point (you and Jenny together; my n of 2). We Americans have taken the giving of advice to a whole new level that other cultures simply haven’t. Thank you much.

  7. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    I avoid offering unsolicited personal advice (i.e., marital, childrearing, employment, etc.), but will cautiously offer up some advice, here and there, if there’s something I think I can help with (i.e., how to possibly fix something, or what you might try to get your tomatoes to grow better, etc.). But you’re right – even with the latter, you have to wade in carefully and know your audience!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Tim,
      I could use a bit of advice on getting my tomatoes to grow better. But then I suppose that’d not be unsolicited. Bummer; bad example. This year I did better than last: I’ve gotten six so far and looks like I’ll get another three or four. Last year, I got one! I keep forgetting to feed them; and they are hungry little buggers.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Musing: How to Give Unsolicited AdviceMy Profile

      • Tim Fearnside
        | Reply

        They do like a good feeding, although I don’t generally do a lot of that sort of thing unless I see they’re struggling. I find soil makes a big difference. My garden is on a bed of clay, so I do mostly raised beds. The tomatoes surely like the deeper beds; not so much the shallow ones, where their roots hit clay. This year’s tomatoes were a bit of a mixed lot, and they weren’t as large as usual, but I planted enough that I’ve still been swimming in them as of late. A great problem to have, in my book!

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          For the past few years, I’ve used a special tomato container from Gardener’s Supply. I add a bag of special feed to the soil each spring, plug in my two tomato plants (this year and last they were “Paul Robeson”, just because), fill in the bottom with water and keep it full as the summer goes on. Supposed to be easy peasy. I must have forgotten to add water at some point this summer (we had a drought for a short spell — hmmm, can one have a “short drought?”) and poof, nearly over night, the branches all fell and the leaves withered. YET, I still get tomatoes off it. Not many, but tomatoes for sure. Weird. I’m totally open to advice on growing garlic too, btw. We’ll save that for another year. Thanks, Tim.
          Janet Givens recently posted…Musing: How to Give Unsolicited AdviceMy Profile

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