ON UNSOLICITED ADVICE
We give unsolicited advice every time we give advice nobody has explicitly asked us for. The fact that somebody is sharing their problem with us does not per se constitute explicit request for advice on how to fix this problem. It is in fact an explicit request for listening to the other person, seeing their point of view, connecting.
The habit of offering advice we are not asked for is a very difficult one to quit. It is a central codependent trait, an indirect way to cover other unexpressed needs. It promotes unclear communication based on insecurity, disconnection, fixation with the three dimensional reality, and unrecognised competitivity. The above is also true when it comes to really good advice.
Let’s take an example. You meet with a friend for a cup of tea and they tell you they are frustrated with another friend over something the other friend said. They are hardly over telling you the whole story and you immediately jump in and say “ Well, you should really talk to them about it!” . Now you might ask why is this bad advice and you will be probably right to think that it might in fact be excellent advice! Nevertheless you will never be able to know with absolute certainty that this is good advice in the case of those two people, would you? But that is not the worst of it.
Unless the person has actually asked you “what do you think I should do?” (not necessarily with those words but it needs to be explicit), there are really so many downsides to the advice you just gave.
Let’s dig behind the scenes and see what happens the moment you say the uninvited “Well, you should really talk to them about it!”:
You are assuming the other person is not capable of managing their own lives. As a result, you are putting yourself in a superior position implying that you know better how the other person should be conducting their lives in terms of actions, thoughts or even emotions. (The amount of times that people say to each other: “you should be feeling grateful”!)
You create a situation where you feel important, needed, clever or even interesting as a way to avoid real feelings of uncertainty and insecurity in your relationship with that person. As a result, you are not being truly present in the moment with your real feelings and you are not authentically connected to the other person.
The other person is either a) going to feel patronised and antagonistic (or even hurt) and be resistant to your advice and become disconnected from you, or b) will use your advice as an excuse to not take responsibility for their lives. (As a result, if things go south after your advice, guess who is to blame!)
In all cases, this thing we think we are doing when providing unsolicited advice, which is “helping others”, does not really happen!
And if you are anything like everybody else who gets a kick out of offering unsolicited advice, you will eventually get pissed off the next time the person talks to you about the same problem, when they haven’t been following your genius advice: because now they are to blame for their problem, because they are not doing what -you think- is right to fix it!
On the other hand we know that we grow in life with the help of others and through the inspiration they give us. So how do we do it? How do we offer our perspective to other people without bulldozing them -and ourselves- with our super genius advice? Here are a few tips. The obvious and simplest way is to ask “Do you want advice on this?” Or, the even more open and compassionate ,“How can I help?”. This last one does magic for communication of all types. It puts you in the actual position of being actually helpful if you can and it puts the other person on the driving seat, taking both responsibility and agency in relation to their problem. Generally, asking questions can be more helpful to others than giving answers. In our example above these could be along the lines of “And how do you feel now?” ,“What happened next?”, “Has that happened to you before? With the same person? With other people?” If you absolutely need to give your personal feedback, do so after the other person has really had a chance to say everything they want to say about their problem, before you share a similar personal experience or offer advice: do it in the form of “ Have you thought of…?”. (In our example “have you thought of talking to them about it?” can you see the different feeling this creates?)
As I said getting out of the habit of constantly throwing your advice on others is not an easy business. It takes practice and conscious effort and you can tackle it simultaneously both internally and externally. The internal way would be for you to look into your underlying subconscious issues (on your own or with professional help or support groups). Be brave and investigate into the realms of you inner darkness and pain. Ask : Why am I doing this? Do I feel insecure in my social interactions? Do I have a need to feel important or needed? Do I have to be smarter, stronger, wiser? Do I feel uncomfortable or unsafe when exposed to other people’s ( thus, also, my own) unhappiness, desperation, depression, sadness, confusion, anger, anxiety, weakness, conflict etc? (Is that why I jump in there to fix it?)
Combine this investigation with the external approach, which requires you telling your closest people that you want to change this habit. One of the most tricky things is that most of the time when we give out unsolicited advice we do not even realise that we are doing it! So ask the people that you trust for their help. Tell them to call you out on it when they catch you doing it. You can even invent a code word for it to help this change become automatic and register inside you in a neurological way! My closest people have agreed to say the word “Watermelon” every time they catch me giving out advice nobody asked me for!
Even with all these efforts you are bound to relapse often and slip into the comforting habit of giving advice without being asked. When this happens be kind to yourself and acknowledge the fact that this is a difficult habit to quit, especially if this trait is encouraged and promoted in your culture or your community. I personally use a tool from Nichiren Buddhism which helps me a lot not to linger in my mistakes and my guilt: it is the concept of hon-nin myo, which means "from this moment forward". In the words of Edward Canfor-Dumas “This means to decide to make a new start and new causes for the future NOW; to refuse to allow the long shadow of the past to cast its darkness over everything […].” Or as I say in my talks on the Vibration Of Diversity: “ Auto-correct! Do not apologise! No need to feel guilty. Correct it and move on” . You can move on on the spot by saying something like “whoops! That’s me again giving out unsolicited advice! Please go on with what you were saying!”.
on unsolicited advice