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:
- Altruism – Advice is offered when people think they can help make your life easier.
- Friendliness – People may offer advice to start a conversation or forge a connection.
- Excitement – Advice is given when people want to share something they are excited or passionate about.
- Needing to be Needed – People give their advice to feel important.
- Feeling Helpless – Some people offer advice because they want to solve your problem for you.
- Tired of Hearing You – People may want you to do something constructive instead of complaining all the time.
- 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.
- Dominance – Some people may offer advice because they want to control your relationship and establish superiority.
- Judgment – Many people offer advice because they are passing judgment on you.
- 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:
- “Thank you, I’ll take that into consideration.”
- “That’s a good idea, but I have my own way of handling this.”
- “I am glad that works for you. There are so many different ways of doing things.”
- “Thanks, but I’m fine.”
- “Thanks, but I don’t really need advice. I’m already researching a solution.”
- “I’ll ask for advice if I need it.”
Or you can always try some funny or sarcastic comment and see if they stop…
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.