What is unsolicited advice? Why is it a communication killer?

Good intentions don’t always make effective communication or better relationships. You might mean well. You want to help. You offer advice to someone without being asked. They get mad. You get mad because the other person isn’t appreciating your effort. What’s going on?

It’s pretty simple. Advice offered without it being requested may be unwelcome for a number of reasons. The most obvious that giving unsolicited advice places you, the advice giver, in a “one up” position. That means that “you know”, and the other person doesn’t (or else you wouldn’t be offering advice, would you?).

When people are placed in a one up, one down context, the person “one down” tends to react in a hostile way, even if, in this situation, the advice being given is clearly very good. The reaction of a person to unsolicited advice is often not related to whether the advice is good or not.

The upshot is that it’s best to ask the other person if they want to hear a suggestion, before forcing it on the other person. This allows him or her to share control of the conversation with you.

It’s also worth paying attention to your own agenda if you tend to offer unsolicited advice. People offer advice when it’s not wanted for various reasons, good and bad, but one of the worst reasons has to do with trying to make oneself appear knowledgeable or to improve one’s status. Not a good reason for helping.


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