If a friend approaches you with a problem, there’s a good chance you’ll want to help them. After all, you don’t want to see your friend suffer, and if you think you have a solution, why not offer it? Though unsolicited advice can come from a genuinely caring place, it’s almost always unhelpful and unwanted.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, giving someone unsolicited advice can feel more like an insult than an act of kindness. In fact, it can make the person you’re trying to help feel inferior, as if you’re implying they can’t solve their problems on their own.
Even if you’re only trying to help, it’s probably best to avoid giving unwanted advice. In addition to being insulting, it can cause the other person to feel even more stressed than they already are. Luckily, if you want to stop giving unsolicited advice, there are several productive things you can do instead.
1. Find the Root of the Problem
If you constantly find yourself telling people what to do, there’s probably a root cause that stems from within. By understanding what motivates you to offer advice instinctively, you can better address the problem and avoid hurting others.
Studies have found that people who are trying to assert dominance offer more advice. You might be offering solutions as a way to prove your own superiority. If this sounds like you, try to address your insecurities and remember that the people you care about are just as capable as you are.
In other cases, you might be compelled to provide advice if the other person’s problem is making you feel anxious. Though creating solutions is a great way to manage your own stress, recognize that it’s not your responsibility to fix everyone’s problems. They’ll be OK on their own.
By addressing these and other inner problems, you can stop giving unwanted advice while improving yourself as well.
2. Control Your Frustration
It can be exhausting listening to someone who is constantly venting about their problems, especially when you have issues of your own to deal with. Sometimes, you might offer solutions just to get a complainer to stop talking.
In these situations, try to manage your anger and progress the conversation productively. Validate the person’s feelings and then steer the conversation in a more positive direction. If you need to leave a conversation to avoid an outburst, it’s OK to do so.
3. Pay Attention to the Speaker
Often, when people complain, they are looking for someone to listen and validate their feelings so they can relax enough to solve their own problems. Though you might show your love by offering solutions, this can cause other people to feel unheard.
Instead of offering advice, focus on listening. Try to understand where the other person is coming from and what they’re feeling. Validating their experience is as easy as saying “That sucks,” or “I understand how hard that must be.”
If you’re not sure whether you should offer advice, pay attention to body language. When you start giving advice, do they look relieved — or do they close themselves off, turn away from you or look frustrated? If it’s the latter, take that as your cue to be a supportive listener instead of a problem-solver.
4. Offer Help but Don’t Assume They Want It
If you’re offering advice to someone you care about, you probably do really want to help them. This comes from a place of love, and it’s a good impulse. Instead of giving advice automatically, though, it’s better to wait until you’re asked.
Your loved ones likely know more about their problems than you do. If you don’t know enough about the subject or situation, you’ll probably end up giving bad advice, which doesn’t help anyone. In these situations, and whenever you want to make your help available, make sure to offer your support vocally.
A good way to offer support without giving unsolicited advice is to ask “Is there anything I can do to help?” This shows you’re respecting the other person’s judgment while making your offer of help clearly known.
If the answer to this question is yes, the other person will tell you what they need, and you can put your helping skills to work. If the answer is no, it’s a good sign they just want you to listen for now.
By shifting your focus from yourself to the speaker and by following the other guidelines given here, you can support your friends and family in difficult times without causing them extra frustration.
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