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Unsolicited Advice and Stress: Different Types of Unsolicited Advice

Is Unsolicited Advice Causing You Stress?

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Updated November 09, 2007

Unsolicited Advice and Stress: Different Types of Unsolicited Advice

Unsolicited advice can be frustrating if it comes from the wrong place. ©iStockphoto.com

You can get great insights from asking for advice from an expert, or just from a friend who seems to have a good take on a certain topic of interest. Asking a group of people, even strangers, for advice can give you a great variety of helpful ideas. (Many people in my forum have found this to be the case.) But what about when advice is offered when you didn’t ask for it? New mothers, college students, and people who work with the public may be more prone to getting unsolicited advice from friends, family, or strangers, but most of us experience it at times. People give advice for many reasons, some of which are well-intentioned, others less so. It can be confusing knowing what to do with all the types of unsolicited advice that we encounter, so it helps to examine where the words might be coming from. Here are some common reasons people are compelled to give unsolicited advice:

Helpful Motives for Unsolicited Advice:

  • Altruism: Often people offer advice just because of the simple reason that they think they can help you, and they want to make your life easier. Perhaps there’s something they know of that they think would work perfectly with your situation or personality, and they would love to hook you up with something that would improve your life or reduce your stress.

  • Friendliness: Sometimes unsolicited advice is offered by a stranger as a way to start a conversation, or by a friend to perhaps forge a connection.

  • Excitement: Other times, unsolicited advice comes from those who have found something that works for them, and they want to share it with the world. They see your situation as a perfect fit for this new product, tool or piece of wisdom that’s made their life so much better, and wish someone had told them about it sooner, so they share.

Whether or not the advice fits with your values or specific situation, this type of advice generally feels good to get.

Less Helpful Motives for Unsolicited Advice:

  • Needing to Be Needed: People who offer unsolicited advice from this motivation may have a lot of knowledge in a certain area that pertains to your situation, and need to share it with people in order to feel needed and important.

  • Feeling Helpless: If you’re sharing your feelings and frustrations with them, some people may want to help you and be trying to solve your problem for you as a way to help. If that’s what you were looking for, great. But if you just wanted a supportive ear, sometimes people can’t tell the difference, and offer advice instead. (This is often the case with men and women, when women want to share their problems as a way of feeling understood so they can then go on to solve their own problem with less stress, but men want to focus on solving the problem so the women will feel better because of it.)

  • They’re Sick Of Hearing It: If you routinely share your problems and feelings with people as a way of ‘venting’, but take no steps toward solving your own dilemmas, let’s face it: even if they know that you just want to talk, they could be trying to get you to do something constructive rather than continually emoting. This only applies to some unsolicited-advice situations, and, looking inward, you’ll know if this applies to you.

  • Narcissism: Some people need to be in the role of ‘teacher’ all the time, or perhaps just like to hear themselves pontificate. Their advice is often long-winded and not always appropriate to your situation, but harmless.

This type of advice, though generally harmless, can feel less helpful, and is sometimes relevant to your situation, but often not.

Much Less Helpful Motives for Unsolicited Advice:

  • Establishment of Dominance: Some advice-givers would like to take the role of ‘more knowledgeable person’ in the relationship dynamic, and giving advice puts them in that position.

  • Passing Judgment: Sometimes when people have seen something in you that they don’t like, they give unsolicited advice as a way to change it. This advice can often feel like an insult more than a genuine attempt to help.

  • Desire for Drama: Believe it or not, some people love conflict, love hearing themselves argue, and get a feeling of personal power from telling others how wrong they are. Such people, consciously or unconsciously, tend to give lots of advice as a way of bringing up topics to debate.

This type of advice has more to do with the advice-giver than with you, and it can sometimes feel like a subtle snub or a slap in the face, and leave you with an uneasy feeling, even if you don’t know why.

Once you’ve thought about where advice can come from, and examined your own thoughts and feelings to see if perhaps you’re being overly sensitive, you can better know how to handle unsolicited advice.

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