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?
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?
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?