Let’s Start a Ban on Unsolicited Advice

I want to start a revolution, a Listening Revolution. It starts with a ban on unsolicited advice.

You know the situation. You have a problem. You are in pain. You are depressed, anxious, insecure, or sad. Maybe you are frustrated with your job and have been looking for another one to no success, and now you are confused about what to do next. Tonight you are looking forward to meeting a friend for drinks so you can cut loose, have fun, and vent some of your frustration. But halfway through your beer and your vent, your friend starts sharing a story about her job search or offering you tips on what you should be doing.

Do you feel supported? No. 

Do you feel loved? No.

Do you feel annoyed, insulted, and angry? Most likely.

Are there times we need advice? Yes. However, most of the time we just need someone to listen. We know what we should do and we might even know what we want to do (but just aren’t saying it out loud). But when someone tells us what we should do, it immediately implies that we are handling it wrong. It immediately implies we are doing life wrong. Unsolicited advice isn’t support. Unsolicited advice is there to make the advice-giver feel like they are helping. Unsolicited advice, 90% of the time, makes the receiver feel like crap.

Unsolicited advice is a relationship killer. It shifts the power and it stops the connection. Unsolicited advice might feel like it is coming from a loving place: “I am just trying to help” and “I have been there, so I have the wisdom to share.”

That may be true. And you might have the best intentions. But when you share your unsolicited advice, you aren’t allowing that person to have their journey. You aren’t allowing them to struggle, figure it out, learn, and grow. Whether intended or not, you are telling them that you know better by telling them what to do.

So why do so many of us give unsolicited advice? Because it is easy. Because we do want to help. Because watching someone else struggle is hard and challenging, especially if we have been there before. But think about your life, when you have been hurting and troubled. What was more helpful: the friend who hugged you and simply said “I love you” or the friend who said, “here’s what you should do.”

We all get stuck. We don’t all move through a transition as fast as we want to. And in these moments, it is the people who have said to me, “I believe in you,” and ‘You will get through this” and “Wow, that must be frustrating,” who were the most helpful.

So what can you do?

Join the Unsolicited Advice Ban and catch yourself as you give unsolicited advice. At first, you won’t notice it until after the interaction and then gradually you will start noticing it during the interaction. Whether you catch yourself before, during, or after, acknowledge it and own it. Apologize to the person you tried to “fix.” Simply say, “I am sorry. I want to help and I realize that giving unsolicited advice might not be the best way, so I am just going to listen.”

Speak up when someone gives you unsolicited advice. Again, you may not notice at first until after the interaction, and then gradually you will start catching yourself sooner. Simply say to your friend as lovingly as possible, “I know you are trying to help and your heart is in the right place, and right now I just need to vent. I just need you to listen” and “When I am ready for advice I will ask for it.”

Unsolicited advice isn’t evil—it just isn’t as helpful as we intend it to be. Together we can stop, listen, and love in a whole new way! Just listen, don’t fix, don’t give advice, and don’t help. Just listen. Just support. Just have empathy. Simply say, “Wow, that sucks.”