A wise woman once told me that “unsolicited advice is criticism.” I amended her sage words by adding the word “perceived;” unsolicited advice is perceived as criticism.
When most people offer advice, it is well-intentioned. We want to be helpful and we think we are. However, more often than not, feelings get hurt and sentiments get misconstrued.
I’ve learned to just stop talking. (As humans, our default is to help. To fix. Not everyone wants to be helped – or to be fixed, sometimes they just want a sympathetic ear.) Unless someone asks my advice – in an obvious question format – I do my best to just listen (and nod to acknowledge what is being said). I don’t even need to bite my tongue, because without a question, no comment is warranted.
A friend emailed me recently proclaiming all the healthy changes he was making in his life. He did not ask for my feedback, so I did not offer any. He then called to ask me for my thoughts on his lifestyle makeover. Only then was I comfortable making suggestions.
It’s taken a lot of practice. When one of my boys accused me of being too critical, I had to take a hard look in the mirror and I agreed. He candidly pointed out how harsh I sounded. He made me more aware of the words I used, the way I used them and the tone in which they were delivered. He was right. So many of my words were unsolicited advice – and he perceived them as criticism.
I have learned to wait until I am asked for advice before dispensing any.
Sometimes that is the hardest thing to do – to wait. Even harder is when the request never happens. My advice is not always sought. And I remain quiet. (Obviously if someone is in imminent danger, I will speak up, solicited or not!)
It’s actually made my relationships easier. Because I am a coach, consultant, mentor, teacher, I’m very comfortable in that role and slip into it before I even realize it. That’s not always appropriate – or welcomed. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a regular conversation, instead of a coaching session.
Another potential pitfall happens while expressing praise. When giving a compliment, practice editing. It’s so easy to tell someone they did a great job, only to follow it with “but” and then more words that undoubtedly will negate the compliment. (“You did such a great job, but I wish you would have mentioned…”) Say the nice words and before you’re tempted to say “but,” just stop talking.
P.S. Try it yourself – especially when you’re around family and friends. Practice listening more than you speak and resist giving advice unless you’re asked. The people around you will feel the difference. They may not be able to articulate it, but they will notice it!