Types of Unsolicited Advice That Cause Stress

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Great insights can come 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 provide a great variety of helpful ideas. 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. And it doesn't always feel helpful.

Unsolicited advice can create stress quite a bit of the time. Often it can feel like criticism more than support when someone offers their take on what you could be doing better. (Sometimes they're not judging, and it's our own defensiveness that's making the advice feel like criticism, and other times they are absolutely judging us and our feelings are spot-on.) The stress can be compounded if the advice-giver takes offense if their advice isn't welcomed and followed. When the advice doesn't feel right to you, this can put you in a difficult position and create frustration and even resentment on both sides. People who offer unsolicited advice may have pure motives (though this isn't always the case), but it doesn't always feel helpful. Understanding their motives, however, can be helpful.

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

  • 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. Whatever the case, their motives are altruistic. 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. Particularly if you are talking to them about a problem, even if you're just needing some validation or emotional support, people may assume you are looking them for answers, and might also be feeling pressure to supply those answers.
  • Friendliness: Sometimes unsolicited advice is offered by a stranger as a way to start a conversation. It can also be offered by a friend to perhaps forge a connection. Friends often assume they can help you by offering you a solution, even if you didn't ask for one. This type of advice is well-meaning and can often be helpful.
  • 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. It's also common for people who have faced the same challenges as you and found what was a great solution for them to want to share this solution, assuming their "answer" will affect you the same way.

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

    Less Helpful Motives

    • 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​ they feel the need to share it with people in order to feel valued 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 or a little validation, 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 the 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, particularly those with narcissistic tendencies, need to be in the role of ‘teacher’ virtually all of 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. These people often can't imagine that their advice won't be the answer you're looking for, even if it doesn't fit your situation.

    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

    • 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.
    • The 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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