I hear from hundreds of people every month from around the world, and many of these folks are generous, positive, and well-meaning individuals. They often offer fascinating ideas and comments, and aim to be helpful in doing so.
But as is true with much in life, there are two sides to every story. One not-so-appealing aspect of extensive interaction and open communication is that we come into contact with some people who feel very comfortable crossing our boundaries, acting like an expert when they’re not, and offering a slew of unsolicited advice which is more about them than you.
As an example of this, I have a neighbor who I see every few weeks and every time she sees me, she feels the need to offer me all sorts of advice on all things pertaining to my personal and professional life, even though she knows virtually nothing about me, and has no frame of reference or experience to understand my life.
Is there a person in your life who behaves this way? It’s really annoying, isn’t it?
Below are 5 easy ways to identify without doubt if you should be listening to the advice you’re receiving (and some suggested responses you can use if you want to tell the adviser to stop):
#1: The adviser doesn’t know you at all
Advice isn’t appropriate for you if there’s no understanding from the advice-giver of who you are, what you care about, and what you value, believe and stand for. People who want to tell you what to do without having any grasp of what makes you tick are generally just needing to hear themselves talk.
Potential response: “Thanks for your tip, but that suggestion doesn’t really fit how I approach my life.”
#2: The adviser didn’t ask you if you’d like to hear their advice
Helpful advice-givers don’t just throw out suggested strategies and tips to help you without asking your permission to do so first.
To me, unsolicited advice is just pontification with a pretense of helpfulness.
Potential response: “Thanks, but I’m not looking for any new advice on this.”
#3: The adviser doesn’t know anything about the topic or issue you’re dealing with
Another sign of unhelpful advice is when comes from someone who knows literally nothing about how to deal with the challenges or issues you’re facing.
Take the example (which I just heard today) of someone who’s been married for 30 years and hasn’t been on a date in over 35 years, giving advice to a newly single person who’s started engaging in online dating. Most likely, whatever the advice-giver has to say will be irrelevant and outdated, given how the world works today.
Potential response: “Thanks, but to me that strategy doesn’t really take into account how things have changed.”
#4: The adviser doesn’t understand what you truly need and want
I coach many professional women who’ve told me about former coaching or mentee/advisee relationships they’ve had that went very wrong. When I ask what happened, they often share that the adviser began advising steps and strategies that seemed to be entirely disconnected to what this client indicated she wanted and needed.
I had this experience myself years ago (before I engaged in a successful career reinvention from corporate VP to therapist and coach) where the first career counselor I went to indicated that, because my assessment tests showed I had a strong aptitude in marketing, I should continue to pursue marketing as a profession.
The reality was that that I desperately wanted out of that profession (as he knew), and I could never have had the happiness and reward I experience now if I had stayed in the marketing profession. He just wasn’t listening to what I shared about my deepest desires and dreams for my future.
Potential response: “Thanks. I’m sure you mean well, but that approach won’t get me closer to what I really want.”
#5: The adviser isn’t someone you respect or align with
The final, most powerful way to tell if the advice you’re getting is something you should consider is this: Is the adviser him/herself approaching their life in a way that you respect, admire and want to emulate? If not, the strategies they suggest probably won’t align with who you are at your core, and what you value and stand for.
Potential response: “Thanks, I appreciate your insights, but that’s not the way I’d like to handle it.”
In the end, when you receive advice you don’t want or didn’t ask for, you can simply walk away, or you can make an empowered stand and say something out loud about it.
Sometimes, it’s not worth our time to try to explain what we’re feeling to someone.
But often, it’s a vitally important step on our own brave, empowered path to stand up for who we are and for what we need and want.
As for me, I’m going to start taking more of a stand on this, because that’s what I secretly long to do, and also, that’s the type of step that represents “finding brave” in my own life, which I’m committed to doing more of going forward.
What do you do when you receive bad advice that you don’t want and didn’t ask for?