Dealing with Unsolicited Advice

As many of you know, my husband has been in and out of the hospital since last October.  He is battling a rare form of lymphoma in his brain called PTLD.  During this time, I have received a lot of generous support, wonderful encouragement, and helpful suggestions from family, friends, and even strangers.  People have offered kind words via email, phone, and cards.  They have brought meals and offered to clean my house.  They have sent motivating books and given money to put gas in the car for my daily trek to the hospital.  Someone even fixed my vacuum cleaner for me!  All of this is greatly appreciated.  I only wish that everyone out there going through crises would have these same types of blessings.

But it’s time to talk about something else I frequently receive that I don’t always want:  constant unsolicited advice.  This is a difficult topic to discuss because unwelcome advice typically comes from well-intentioned family members, friends, or strangers who are saying what they think will help me.  However, I have found that continual unwanted advice can become really, really annoying.  I do try to ignore it, but it really takes all of my self-control and patience.  Some days I think I am going to snap.

When I say constant unsolicited advice, I am not talking about the information someone may give me when I ask for direction or help.  And I am not talking about an occasional loving suggestion a close friend may give when I am confiding in her about my struggles.  What I am talking about is frequent, intrusive statements made by people who feel it is their duty to tell me how I should feel, think, believe, behave, or react to any given circumstance or situation during this challenging time.

A few people believe it is their responsibility to teach or change me.  Most often, this advice comes disguised as some sort of “words of encouragement” – when in reality their words convey judgment, an effort to impart their great wisdom, and statements about how I should apply the information to my life.  Frequently, the people giving advice have not even bothered to ask me what I am thinking or feeling about that particular topic.  Rather, they presume where I am at emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically, or otherwise.  And without this intimate knowledge, their advice can become random and inapplicable to me.  It’s important to remember that everyone’s relationship styles, grieving processes, and spiritual journeys are different.

Since I don’t want to ruin any relationships, I decided to do some research about how to respond to unsolicited advice.  I hope this information helps other people going through crises who find themselves in similar situations.

The first step I found is to discern who is giving the advice and why – and then decide whether the advice may be desired or wise to take.  For example, advice may come from a professional person such as a counselor, doctor, or even your boss – and it is typically wise to take the advice these people give.  But advice may also come from individuals such as family members or friends who may have impure motives – usually they see something that they don’t like about you and want to change it.  Some things they say may very well be true, but this is the type of unsolicited advice that can quickly damage relationships.

I found ten motives people may have for giving advice, some good and some bad:

  1. Altruism – Advice is offered when people think they can help make your life easier.
  2. Friendliness – People may offer advice to start a conversation or forge a connection.
  3. Excitement – Advice is given when people want to share something they are excited or passionate about.
  4. Needing to be Needed – People give their advice to feel important.
  5. Feeling Helpless – Some people offer advice because they want to solve your problem for you.
  6. Tired of Hearing You – People may want you to do something constructive instead of complaining all the time.
  7. Narcissism – These people need to be in the role of “teacher” at all times or like to hear themselves pontificate so they offer constant advice.
  8. Dominance – Some people may offer advice because they want to control your relationship and establish superiority.
  9. Judgment – Many people offer advice because they are passing judgment on you.
  10. Drama – A few people give advice to intentionally create conflict.

Now, if you decide that the unsolicited advice is not wanted, you can try to ignore it.  But sometimes people do not take a hint.  So if you can no longer ignore the advice-giving, I found several responses that you can give, depending how polite or direct you want to be:

  1. “Thank you, I’ll take that into consideration.”
  2. “That’s a good idea, but I have my own way of handling this.”
  3. “I am glad that works for you.  There are so many different ways of doing things.”
  4. “Thanks, but I’m fine.”
  5. “Thanks, but I don’t really need advice.  I’m already researching a solution.”
  6. “I’ll ask for advice if I need it.”

Or you can always try some funny or sarcastic comment and see if they stop…

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Jason Graham was the recipient of the 2010 IDA Inspiration Award – Read the Article and Watch the Video Here. Read the Graham Family’s Full Story Here.

UPDATE: We regret to inform you that Jason passed away on April 2, 2011. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Graham family. Read full story.

 

About Michelle Graham

Michelle Graham is an IDA Publications Contributor. Her husband, Jason, has battled a pituitary tumor and kidney disease since the age of 29. Although he had a successful brain surgery, his first kidney transplant began to fail within a few weeks. During these years, Michelle found out she had an autoimmune disease and underwent several surgical procedures. Jason was planning a second transplant in 2010, but was diagnosed with a brain mass (PTLD -rare type of lymphoma caused by transplant drugs) and has been undergoing treatment. Jason and Michelle have a son named Kendall. Jason was the recipient of the 2010 IDA Inspiration Award. Jason’s father, Tom, played in the NFL in the 70’s and his brother, Daniel, currently plays for the Denver Broncos.

Comments

  1. Reba says

    Michelle,
    I am so very thankful for your blog. I think it is awesome that you share what you are going through so that others might have a place to feel “connected” or that there is someone they can relate to. I will say it again and again.. You are one of the most amazing people I have ever had the honor to know. Here if you ever want to chat!

  2. healthadvocate says

    I find it upsetting when people say this?? Why not be more thankful and appreciative that others would go out of their way to help you and to offer you their advice and/or wisdom? Be thankful that they even want to help you or your family? Please be more open minded and change your perspective here. When others offer you unsolicited advice, it could be a message directly from GOD (bibles says he delivers his messages through people) and if you shut them down or get angry that they are delivering the exact message that you need at the exact time that you need it (and you choose to get angry, pissed off, or ignore it) that could be a slap in the face to God. Just please, be more open minded, take all advice, do your own research though and continue to be thankful and appreciative that others are so willing to share their knowledge with you, so sorry for your loss.

  3. A Friend says

    Wow! I completely disagree with healthadvocate. I have found that unsolicited advise is rarely helpful and often comes from someone who clearly has no idea what you are dealing with. Especially in times of serious illness you do not need someone advising you on how you should feel and what you should do. Just tyying to cope with all the extra responsibilities and medical opinions associated with a severe medical condition can be overwhelming enough, Rather than giving advice, the more apprioate action would be to ofter words of encouragement or lend a helping hand, Rather than spewing verses at someone, the more christ like action would be to say “hey, is there anything I can do to help”. Offer to provide a meal, clean a bathroom, a shoulder to lean on, or simply let them know that they are in your thoughts and prayers. Now Michelle is getting advise on the apprioate way to handle advise. Kind of proves my point.

    • 2ears1mouth says

      I also disagree with healthadvocate, I for one cant stand unsolicited advice. If I ask for advice thats one thing, if you are going to just dump all your infinite wisdom on me to be in charge or feel good about yourself please dont do it under the guise of God said. Most times for me Im just am looking for someone to listen to me, and advice just completely annoys me. As your telling me your well meaning drivel, Im thinking please just shut up and listen to me, I need someone to listen to me!!

  4. says

    Unsolicited advice is usually very annoying and comes across as the person who is giving it thinking he/she is somewhat superior in some way to the person going through the crisis. Big reminder…..trouble comes to all and only by the grace of God you are not going through something at the moment. If help is what you really want to offer some one then it should be a gift or service of some kind…not advice as to what or how they should do something.

  5. Cindy says

    Respectfully, I also disagree with Healthadvocate. At a prayer time at church, once again, I had someone who was supposedly well meaning-”How are you praying? Maybe you aren’t praying right?” I pray like everyone else does. “Well maybe you just don’t have enough faith.” I’d heard the lament of hundreds of other chronically ill’s prayer requests in accepting other’s prayer requests throughout the world wide web of the words of sorry comforters. I decided rather than ignoring it this time in perhaps trying to prevent this one person from going on to hurt and or insult another ill or in pain person. “There were many people in the Bible who had the faith to pray for someone to be healed and there are instances in which that did happen. Since you do not think I have enough faith then let’s put you in charge of praying for my healing and you let me know how that goes.”

    Now before anyone goes harsh on me for being harsh-remember that judgmentalism of that lady was at the core and an air of superiority as well, and quite possibly fear that suffering could come her way but telling herself if it did well she knew how to handle it. I think that shows Narcisism, judgementalism, being in the middle of a churchservice, drama is likley, as well as, dominance. I applaud Michelle for breaking this down into a simplified way of helping to determine the best response in a hugely less frustrating way rather than ignoring it. Previously, unneeded and unwanted advice when I just ignored it, I found it was destroying my peace, discouraged me, stressed me which added to my suffering rather than being accepted, encouraged, and uplifted to carry on and endure my days better and happier-was I am sure not what God wanted for me. Here I was so wanting to get to church for sanctuary only to have my heart and soul discouraged beyond deep darkness by those others characterize as “Just meaning well.” I am so glad to have Michelle’s thoughts in this article validate what I have been through in that not everyone truly does mean well. On the surface they may say they do, but what the say and how they come across shows the true intent of their heart, which may come as a surprise to they, themselves when pointed out to them.

    If in response to the advice given the giver has an insulted reaction to the ill, in pain, and or in crisis person, then it would behouve the advice giver to examine their own motives within their heart-take it to God and then go back and ask forgiveness to the person they may just have hurt or discouraged. I find how the advice giver reacts to my response is more telling about that person and often validates one of the ten reasons, like Michelle listed, I have already discerned that helped me give the appropriate response. While as women we were brought up not to make waves, the truth is, sometimes making waves is and needs to be the appropriate response. I’ve learned after many times of not just hearing the frustrations of others, but feeling the sting myself of someone who was only operating under the guise of “meaning well.” How can these ever change if the need is not ever pointed out to them? Please do stand up to those so that perhaps you may save another person who perhaps cannot take one more discouraging word should that advice giver go unchecked. Job’s friends were those that “meant well” but were shown correctly to be “sorry comforters.” Your response could keep one more person from so much unneccesary hurt and yes, even spiritual harm in discouragement.

    Well done Michelle!!! Congratualtions on your article!

    Warmest regards,

    Cindy

  6. Cara says

    I also disagree with healthadvocate. As an MS caregiver, I am bombaded with a steady stream of unsolicited advice and it gets old very quickly. While some people are well intentioned, others will actually follow up and ask me if I’m heeding their advice. And when we’re not using “bee sting therapy” to “cure MS,” I occasionally get the response, “Well, that’s your problem right there.” Or, worse, “Why would you not try everything that is available to you to get the best, most comprehensive treatment you can?” But you know, I’m only one woman and he’s only one man. We can try different things one at a time, but we cannot try everything everyone suggests all at the same time. Because we are human and because we are dealing with this the best way we know how.

    Further, I think you completely missed the point in what Michelle is saying. And no one is trying to slap God in the face. With all due respect, that’s just a silly thing to say. I’d give you the advice to re-read what Michelle has said, but that… would be unsolicited…

    Thank you for writing this article. I really appreciate it and I know others do too.

  7. Phil says

    Quite simply, I do not choose to be friends and spend time with people like healthadvocate. I have plenty of friends who do not give me unsolicited advice, and I enjoying being friends with them.

  8. Rachel says

    Excellent article. You describe the reasons why being the victim of constant unsolicited advice is frustrating and unwanted. I find that being polite rarely dissuades those most guilty of this behaviour; as you correctly say, they’re narcissistic, and seem to have a burning need to be needed that overrules any attempt you may make to politely decline their (often self-serving) ‘advice’. For myself, I find the only thing that works is being blunt. I use the phrase “that’s the last advice on ‘X’ I’m going to be needing from you, do not presume to advise me what to do”. It’s only by being that blunt that they seem to get the message.

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