As I was growing up, my mother seldom gave me usable information, but she often told me what to do. I often wished she would just stop giving unsolicited advice.
Later, my early training as a nurse instilled in me the urge to “fix” everything. I had a strong proclivity towards advice-giving: Do this, don’t do that, always or never do the other thing. Eventually, I learned to start giving information. As a result, I felt better! The other person felt better! With information, they could make better decisions! Here are five reasons to stop giving unsolicited advice.
It’s not your baby
As professionals, we must understand that other adults have the desire, skill, and intuition to make their own decisions. And, without that belief, we end up giving advice, rather than information.
You can’t begin to know the other person’s beliefs, values, circumstances, budget, or obligations. Without such an understanding, you really don’t have a right to say, “You need to do this” or “Just do that” or “If it were me, I would do this.” But, it’s not you. It’s not your baby. It’s simply not your place to tell a parent what to do with their baby, so stop giving unsolicited advice. (And if you’re not a professional, but you’re a grandparent, that goes for you, too!)
You communicate confidence in the parents
First, when you tell someone what to do, you are implying that they are so dull, unenlightened, obtuse, or nitwitted that they are incapable of making the right decision.
Next, you’re undermining the parent. Parenting is the hardest job in the world. And even the best and most experienced parents doubt themselves! Above all, they need all of us to build up, rather than tear down, their self-confidence.
Finally, by giving information instead of unsolicited advice, you show that you believe they will take that information and make the best decision for themselves and their families.
You don’t have to be right
A few years ago, my sister wanted to purchase a tablet. She struggled with which brand and which model to buy. I wanted to blurt out: “Just buy an iPad like mine and you’ll love it!” Instead I said, “Create some criteria to guide your shopping. How do you plan to use it? What size seems to feel about right to you? How much do you want to pay?”
To my surprise, she bought an iPad exactly like mine! She hated it the first few weeks. But she didn’t blame me because I hadn’t given any unsolicited advice!
When you give information, you are viewed as being knowledgeable, insightful, and resourceful. It’s a no-lose situation. So you gain credibility when you stop giving unsolicited advice.
You’re more present in conversations when you stop giving unsolicited advice
It’s very hard to be truly present in the conversation when you’re focused on what you’re going to say next, or how you’re going to “fix” whatever is being discussed.
Most people want to be heard. They want someone to listen and maybe help them sort through their feelings and options. In my comprehensive course, I give a learning exercise where attendees must figure out whether it’s appropriate to do Brammer & McDonald’s leading or guiding (The Helping Relationship: Process and Skills, 2003). I caution them: When in doubt, do guiding! And remember that “leading” doesn’t mean taking over!
Most people won’t accept unsolicited advice anyway
At the core of our being, most of us want to be in charge of our own bodies and our own families. Like other humans, we have big brains. Certainly, we cannot expect others to act like sheep that follow the herd or like lemmings that march to the sea.
Unwanted or unsolicited advice doesn’t work well for anyone: the professional, the parent, or the baby. Everyone from relatives to friends to old ladies at the park seem to have an opinion. No one wants to hear unsolicited advice — especially new parents. But many need more information in order to make well-grounded choices.
Years ago, I heard an experienced La Leche League Leader summarize the principles I’ve discussed here: “Give information, not advice.” That’s easy to remember and makes good sense!
What communication strategies are effective for you, with families you care for? Are you able to avoid giving unsolicited advice?