How many times do we have to learn? Giving advice someone hasn’t asked for backfires. For that matter, giving advice to someone who asked for it tends to backfire.
Because when we give advice we imply we know the other person’s life better than they do. We appear to impose our values on them. We likely neglect that the other person is already doing something to improve their lives.
I’ve written about it before. I’m writing about it now because I caught myself doing it. Actually, this time I only appeared to give someone advice when I was comparing my experience to a friend’s, but it was enough to provoke a defensive response. Even merely appearing to give unrequested advice will likely promote defensiveness and retaliation.
I try to follow my advice to myself on giving unsolicited advice to others.
Since you never know how attached someone is to what you’re advising against, imagine you’re advising a mother how to raise her child better.
Everybody gets that no matter how much better you think you can do, any mother will reject your advice on how to raise her child better, probably angrily, at least indignantly, and probably enough to make you regret it.
Here are alternatives I’ve found someone effective.
- Staying quiet and minding my business.
- Getting the other person to state their problem and ask for my help. If they don’t believe they have a problem, I revert to 1.
- Sharing a relevant story in which I improved my life doing what I would recommend to them. If they get it and ask, I elaborate. If not, I revert to 1.
- Sharing relevant third-party information (like a study showing effective practices) from which they can glean the advice I’m giving. If they get it and ask, I elaborate. If not, I revert to 1.
- Examine my priorities: why do I feel like I know better? Could they know something I don’t? I try to learn from the experience, especially humility and patience. Then I revert to 1.
All that said, there are conditions when I give unsolicited advice, usually when I don’t care if the person implements the advice or not, like it’s a minor point for everyone involved. Even then I take care not to keep it from escalating.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book