Why and How to Stop Giving Unsolicited Advice

It’s the classic ‘trip you up’ interview question. “Tell me … what’s your biggest weakness?” How do you answer it? For me, my biggest weakness is giving unsolicited advice.

(Irony alert: a blog post offering unsolicited advice about not offering unsolicited advice.)

Speaking as a consultant – I give advice for a living – it has been a lifetime challenge. If I’m in a conversation and encounter a problem I can solve, it is difficult to resist the temptation to offer a quick bite-sized solution. If you can’t resist it either, it doesn’t necessarily make you an evil person. But there are compelling reasons to stop doing it, as we’ll see.

People give out unsolicited advice for a variety of reasons. Understanding these motivations can help in navigating conversations and building better interpersonal relationships.

Here are some reasons why individuals might offer unsolicited advice:

1. Desire to Help: At the heart of many unsolicited advice-givers is a genuine desire to help. They believe their experiences and knowledge can benefit others.

2. Need for Validation: Some individuals seek validation for their choices and beliefs. By offering advice, they hope others will follow it, thereby affirming the advice-giver’s decisions.

3. To Exhibit Expertise: For some, giving advice is a way to showcase their expertise or knowledge in a particular area.

4. Control and Power: Offering advice, especially when it’s not asked for, can be a way for some individuals to exert control or establish a power dynamic in a relationship.

5. Altruism: Some people genuinely believe they are acting in the best interest of the other person, even if the advice is unsought.

6. Social Conditioning: In some cultures or families, it’s customary to offer advice as a form of care or concern. It’s seen as a way of looking out for one another.

7. To Build Connection: Sharing advice can be a way for individuals to connect or find common ground with others.

8. Anxiety or Worry: Concern for someone can manifest as unsolicited advice. A person might fear that without their guidance, the other individual might face problems.

9. Lack of Awareness: Some people might not even realise they’re giving unsolicited advice. They might think they’re just participating in a conversation or sharing their perspective.

10. Ego Boost: For some, giving advice provides a boost to their self-esteem, making them feel wise or important.

While these are some common reasons, motivations can vary widely based on individual personalities, experiences, and cultural backgrounds. When on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, it can be helpful to consider the possible intentions behind it and respond with empathy and understanding.

Why Giving Unsolicited Advice is a No-No

Breaking Trust Before Building It

Imagine walking into a shop and having someone tell you what to buy before you’ve even browsed. Now, that would be annoying, right? Unsolicited advice is much the same. It presumes to know the needs of a business without proper understanding, creating an immediate barrier. Would you trust someone who assumes too much too soon?

Missing the Mark

By jumping in with both feet, you risk misunderstanding the business’s real challenges. And let’s be honest, who wants advice that’s off the mark? It’s like being handed a hammer when you need a screwdriver.

Professional Image at Stake

Think about it. Do you want to be known as the person who offers advice without being asked? It’s a quick way to tarnish your professional image.

The Art of Listening First

Ever heard the phrase, “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason”? It’s time to use them in that ratio.

Questions Over Assumptions

Instead of offering unsolicited advice, why not ask questions? Understand the challenges a business is facing. Remember the research? Clients love when their opinions are sought. So, why not start by asking and listening?

Building Genuine Connections

When you listen more than you speak, you forge genuine connections. People remember those who take the time to understand them. So next time, resist the urge to jump in. Just listen.

How to Break the Habit

Giving unsolicited advice can be a hard habit to break, especially if you’re passionate about your field. But with a few simple changes, you can shift from being “that person” to a respected professional.

Practice Active Listening

It’s not just about being quiet. It’s about truly hearing what the other person is saying. Nod, ask questions, and engage. You’d be surprised how much you can learn.

Redirect the Urge

Feel the need to offer advice? Flip it. Ask a question instead. Turn “You should try social media marketing” to “Have you explored social media marketing?”

Remember, It’s Not About You

This might be a tough pill to swallow, but not every conversation needs your input. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is provide a listening ear.

Taking the High Road

Now, this doesn’t mean you should never offer advice. It means choosing the right moment. Wait for a genuine opening, an invitation, or a specific query. Businesses are always evolving, and your expertise could be invaluable. But it’s essential to offer it at the right time.

What’s the Real Goal?

We all want to build strong, lasting relationships in the business world. And the key? Mutual respect. So next time, like me, you’re itching to offer advice, take a step back. Ask a question, offer a smile, and remember that sometimes, silence truly is golden.