“There is a time to provide advice and offer an opinion, and there is a time not to. Don't be too quick to offer unsolicited advice. It certainly will not endear you to people.” - Harvey Mackay
Due to my occupation, people reach out to me asking for an advice for the best ways to find the jobs, get promotions, start business, or become better leaders. Sometimes I have quick answers based on the knowledge and expertise gained through a couple of decades of learning. I try my best to refrain from giving advice without further exploration about what a person is trying to achieve or gain.
Usually, I offer options instead of just telling the person what to do. Less frequently now than even a couple of years ago, I fall into a self-made trap of making assumptions and spewing out an answer to a question because I want to help and share the knowledge as quickly as possible. I only do this if I know that my answer is 100% correct. Sometimes it works and other times the words turn out to be empty and don’t resonate with a requester of information. When a listener isn’t able to connect with your “wisdom”, he or she could shut down and not be receptive to anything you say – even if you know 100% that you are offering something very valuable. Sometimes, an individual can get even angry because they didn’t get the answer they were seeking. The same reaction could happen when we are given a completely unsolicited advice.
My recent discovery about unsolicited advice
Two months ago my 10-year old daughter, who plays soccer, started learning to juggle a soccer ball. She seemed to be very motivated to learn this new skill. Of course, as a driven mother, I eagerly jumped right in and started supporting her by sharing the motivational statements and advice. Without realizing it, I was convinced that by telling her, “Come on! You can do it! Just find the rhythm. Engage your feet. Make sure to follow the ball. Don’t give up!”, she somehow will become better faster. After each statement and yet another failing attempt, she would seemingly get more and more frustrated. Her response would be something of this nature, “Mom, it is hard! You try it.” Or, she would even exclaim, “I can’t do it!” The more I pushed, the harder she resisted. Thankfully, I quickly realized that my unsolicited advice mixed with motivation had led her to being more discouraged, which was an opposite effect than the intent behind my words.
This led me to immediately change my strategy. She needed to be the one to set her goals and find the way to accomplish them. Commitment had to come from her not me. Clearly, she was self-motivated and driven in her efforts, so I needed to put on my “professional coach” hat and practice what I was taught.
At the beginning of each practice in our front yard, I would ask my daughter, “What is your goal today?” She would excitedly tell me a number of juggles she wanted to get. Then, she would work through the frustrations caused by not getting to that number. What I would do is simply encourage versus telling her how to get it done. I don't mix the motivational statements with skills coaching. Anytime she would say, “I can’t do it.”, I would reply, “Of course, you can! You have gone from 5 to 10 juggles already, and that it is a great job.”
Now, she starts each practice with a major statement, “I CAN do 20 juggles (numbers vary and keep growing).” What I do is support her and only seldom suggest to try something fun and different. The latest suggestion was to try singing ABCs while juggling. This suggestion was taken with enthusiasm. She keeps exceeding her own goal each time a new one has been set. To date she did 40 soccer ball juggles and her goal was 29!
Here are my lessons from a 10-year old:
1. Refrain from offering unsolicited advice. It will most likely irritate a person you want to help.
2. Listen to what help is needed and ask questions to clarify instead of assuming.
3. Offer positive reinforcement versus advising what to do right away. Gain credibility in the topic and trust first, then your coaching and advice will be more reciprocal.
4. When you hear a person doubting their abilities, address it right away. Turn “I can’t” into “I can”.
5. Be supportive regardless of the current results.
Even if we are willing to be encouraging and mean it from the bottom of our hearts, our words aren't always going to be helpful to a human being who has his/her own biases. Your advice might serve them better when they ask for it, when they are ready to receive it, or when it meets their needs.
Do you offer unsolicited advice frequently? How do you feel when people do this to you? Share your thoughts and comment below.