Handle Unwanted Advice With Minimal Stress

How To Handle That Unwanted Advice--With Minimal Stress

Unwanted advice can be annoying. Here's how to cope. Tomazi/GettyImages

Unsolicited advice can sometimes be helpful, but often it's just annoying.  Repeated offers of unwanted advice can be stressful because they tend to feel more like criticism than help. In fact, some research suggests that support shown in the form of too much advice can be more stressful in a relationship than no support at all!  Interestingly, it seems it's often the people who are most eager to offer their advice (particularly when it hasn't been welcomed) are those whose advice fits their personality better than it may fit yours.  

Unfortunately, some ways of handling unsolicited advice, especially from loved ones, can cause even more stress. When people are well-meaning, they can feel offended when their advice is not followed.  When people are coming from a place of wanting to exert control, a direct rejection of the advice can create conflict (which can create significant amounts of stress), particularly when it is worded in a hostile way.  There are a variety of intentions that can lead to unsolicited advice, and it helps to be mindful of that.  Here are some easy steps to dealing with unsolicited advice that can help you maintain your boundaries without offending the advice-giver.

Think About Their Intentions.  

Try to discern where the advice is coming from. Is the person coming from a helpful place, or is the advice more about their needs, and not really appropriate to your situation? Here's some more information on the different types of unsolicited advice and what's behind each type, to help you figure out the motivation of the advice-giver.

Consider the Source.

Decide if you want advice from this person. After thinking about the possible motivations of your self-appointed advisor, looking inward at your own reactions to the advice and the advice-giver, and perhaps even considering 'political ramifications,' you can figure out if accepting the advice (and future advice) is a good idea, or if you'd be better off curbing this dynamic in your relationship.  

For example, you may want to curb advice-accepting if you're in a situation where you don't want to be seen as inexperienced, less-than-able, or in a one-down position.  This may apply to many relationships, like co-worker relationships where you want to "hold your own;" friendships where you find the other friend offers advice frequently but never asks for it, creating a shift in the relationship dynamic that you may not want; or family relationships where you are treated with less respect if you come across as less capable.  If this is the case, however, you should also be careful not to discuss problems too often, particularly the same problems repeatedly.  If you just want a supportive listener, don't discuss your problems with someone who repeatedly offers advice that doesn't seem to fit.  In other situations, however, accepting advice, even if it wasn't asked for, can help you solve a problem or strengthen a bond.  If you're reading this article, you probably are not dealing with this type of a situation, but it helps to think about it to be certain if you haven't already.

Listen and Thank Them.

If you want to take the advice and get future advice from this person, it’s easy to thank them for their advice, ask them to expand on it, and remember it in your life. (However, if your situation were that easy, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article, so you can move on to the next tips.)

Accept It, Then Pivot.  

If you want to make the other person feel valued, but don’t want to take the advice, say, “Thank you; I’ll take that into consideration,” and then change the subject. This way, you can think about the advice and immediately discard it, but still let them know that you value their thoughts.  This also curtails the conversation so you don't have to pretend that you will follow the advice if you know you won't, or put yourself in a position of listening to more details about a plan you know won't work for you.

Set Boundaries When Necessary.  

If you want to draw a boundary with this person to eventually prevent loads of unsolicited advice from them, you can politely but firmly say, “That’s a good idea, but I have my own way of handling this,” and change the subject. If they persist, you can say supportive, but noncommittal things like, "I’m glad that works for you. There are so many different ways of doing things," or more firm things like, "Thanks, but I’m doing fine."  Again, you may want to take a more gentle approach with someone who seems truly well-meaning, but a more firm approach with someone who seems to be coming from a place of criticism.  

Reaffirm Boundaries If Needed.  

If the unsolicited advice keeps occurring, you can choose to keep ignoring it, or you can gently but firmly tell them that you don’t need any advice. “Thanks, but I really don’t need advice; I’m already researching a solution,” or, “Thanks, but if I need advice, I’ll be sure to ask for it,”  can both work well. This works well with many people who want to help but don't seem to get the hint that this isn't the way to be helpful to you. However, there are some people who offer unsolicited advice to serve their own egos, and become offended if you tell them that you weren't looking for advice, or take it personally if you don't follow their advice. When this is the case, you may want to limit your time around this person if their unsolicited advice is creating too much stress in your relationship.

Tips for Handling Unsolicited Advice With Minimal Stress:

  1. If the unwanted advice comes in response to your sharing your problems with this person, you may want to find another confidante.  Additionally, if you find yourself talking about the same issues repeatedly and not trying to solve them, this may be the other person's attempt to help or to let you know that they would like to see you try a solution.  You may decide to be more proactive before dropping the person as a source of support, or you may decide to find a more supportive ear; you are probably the best judge of this situation.
  2. If the unsolicited advice keeps coming and keeps bothering you, it might be a good idea to limit your contact with the person for a little while until you feel less emotionally reactive. This is particularly true if the advice is not in response to your discussing a problem, but more as an observation, such as, "You really should wear looser clothing; that would be more flattering on you," to provide a more extreme example.
  3. Try to remember that the advice is most likely coming either from a place of wanting to help you or of needing to feel important. At best, it’s meant as altruism, and at worst, it’s usually coming from a weak place, but not a mean place, in the other person.  Occasionally, if you are dealing with someone who is passive aggressive, it could be a covert personal attack which can obviously create more stress, but more likely, it is coming from a more altruistic place in the other person.
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