There is one thing, above all others, that can hurt a relationship more than anything. It’s insidious and most of us have experienced it. At the time, you may not have been able to name it, but you knew that there was something going on that you did not like. As the title of this blog suggests, it’s unsolicited advice.
I know some of you are already asking, “is giving advice that bad?” No. I give advice as a therapist all the time. My sons have asked me for advice as have my friends. When they ask, I give it. But there is a huge difference between solicited and unsolicited advice. Believe it or not, unsolicited advice is a subtle form of disapproval.
I work with adults who struggle with their relationships. Unsolicited advice is a common issue that comes up when individuals are struggling with their relationship with their parents. Most of the time it looks something like this…
You join a parent, or parents, for dinner and there are a lot of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ coming up in the conversation. A common line among those who give unsolicited advice is “What you need to do is…” It can be very subtle and often is. A great way to see if you are receiving unsolicited advice is to ask yourself some of the following questions when leaving the person, or people, in question.
- Are you leaving feeling like you are not doing enough?
- Do you feel like you need to do more?
- Are you leaving feeling like you’ve got a lot of newfound self-doubts?
- Are you feeling disappointed in yourself?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes then you’ve been given unsolicited advice.
It isn’t just parents who offer unsolicited advice. Siblings and friends do it as well. Recently, I spoke with a father who was constantly giving advice to his grown daughters and he couldn’t figure out where all the conflict within their relationships was stemming from. When I pointed out that it might be the unsolicited advice he was giving, he stated that he worries about them and wants to help them avoid the same struggles he faced. I told him that was fine, but his strategy was backfiring. Instead of taking the advice, his daughters were avoiding him and tuning him out. He was a wonderful man, but he had let his anxiety spill into his relationships with his daughters and hurt them. All because of unsolicited advice.
My parents never gave me unsolicited advice. Well, I take that back. Once upon a time, my mother tried to give me and my brother unsolicited advice about a problem between us. She was well-intentioned and hated seeing us struggle over the issue, but we gently told her that this was something we’d take care of ourselves. She surrendered and we solved the problem!
Now, I know you’re not asking for my advice, but stop giving unsolicited advice to your grown children, your friends, your siblings, and for that matter, anyone. No one likes it. It sends a message that you don’t approve of them and, do I dare say it, that you’re better than them. Nothing sours a relationship like talking down to people. I once heard Norman Lear interviewed and he was asked about his youthful demeanor. At the time he was 93 and he responded, “I talk to everyone like I’m their peer” and that’s great advice!