Unsolicited Advice is Always Self-Serving

Feeling Put Upon

Feeling Put Upon

Why Does Advice Sometimes Backfire?

I try to spend a little time during the week reading in my favorite magazines or news stories that peak my interest. This week, I found one that hits home as it’s close to something I posted on FB a few weeks ago.

Giving unsolicited advice is what causes problems. Advice is necessarily preceded by a judgment or evaluation—which is based on our interpretation of the situation. Although you may sincerely intend to help or assist someone, giving unsolicited advice sends a variety of underlying messages which are all based on assumptions, and which are almost always perceived as negative. As a result, advice often comes across as judgmental, authoritative, or self-serving:

When we give unsolicited advice, the judgmental assumption is, “You can’t figure this out on your own,” or “I don’t trust you to figure it out.”
The authoritative assumption is, “I know better than you,” or “I know and you don’t, so I have to tell you.”
The self-serving assumption is, “I need to give you the benefit of my advice to validate or to prove to myself how smart I am.”

If you want to help someone you care about, simply tell them your thinking of them, sending thoughts and prayers; and if there’s anything you can do, have them let you know.

Don’t assume they’ve gone through what you have. Or that you know all there is about their life or situation. Your suggestion, no matter how concerning, could be reminding them of resources they don’t have and haven’t had for a while. Or you might be suggesting they tried a very long time ago to no avail. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life, behind the scenes or within their heart or head.

And that goes for all advice, that spans the spectrum of daily life. From dealing with a troubled person, heart break, a cold or medical condition or a struggle that rings true and hits home in your life. You don’t know what they’re going through or what they’ve done, so don’t assume they haven’t already tried the solutions you saw on some news program 3 months ago on some tv show.

The other day someone saw a lady in her son’s elementary school office telling the admins she has a new phone number for contacting her if needs be. Her new cell phone was a very nice new model and she was rather proud of it. Another woman said quietly under her breath to someone sitting in the waiting area “if she can afford a $300 cell phone, why can’t she pay for her son’s lunches? I know for a fact she’s getting free lunches.”

The woman with the new phone didn’t hear the comment and continued talking to the admins with a happy tone in her voice. The admin asked what kind of phone it was and the mother said the brand and model. It’s the latest and greatest. Then she added, it’s for my husband’s business and I’ll be answering the phones for him. We haven’t been able to afford a second phone for him, but AT&T sent him a letter wanting to continue his contract that ran out 6months ago and offered a free upgrade. We went to the store and showed it to the sales people and they asked what we wanted? She said “What can I get?” and the sales guy said whatever you want. She named the one she dreamed of having and he said ok. So she got her $300 phone for free. Good for her.

The women sitting in the waiting area heard this and the one who listened to the negative nasty judgement of the other woman said “You should never judge other people, especially when you don’t know their whole story.” She got up and moved away from the nasty negative woman.

The stories of advice might be different, but this event gives a perfect example of how assumptions can be made. You can see someone who takes a shower, dresses nicely and carries them self with confidence and/or humility and think they have no problems in their life. Not a care in the world, or a thing to be stressed out about. And that might be exactly what they want you to think. They don’t want you to know the water is being turned off on Monday, or the electricity is being canceled next week, or there’s nothing in their house to eat when they get home. Maybe that lunch their son is getting at school for free are the ONLY meals he’ll have that day.

Keep your advice to yourself unless you’re asked for it. No matter who it is directed to. A sibling, some other family member, a friend or someone you barely know online. Your advice could be making things much worse in their day than providing the help and compassion you think it’s giving.

© Springwolfs Hanko

© 2014 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.