When my brother and I were teenagers, we used to fight . . . a lot! I’ll admit that most of our fights were ones that I started and were probably unprovoked. In one particularly “lively” incident, I found myself trapped on our back porch, with my brother telling me that under no circumstances was I going to leave that room. When he was little, I probably would have just pushed passed him and exited the room, but at this point, he was pretty big, like football-player big, so I knew there was no way I was getting around him. However, being as hard headed as I was, there was NO WAY anyone was going to tell me I could or could not do something, including leave that room.
So I opened the window and jumped out. I tell you this story to let you know that in general, even to this day, I’m just one of those people who doesn’t like to be told what to do. That’s why I bristle when people take it upon themselves to offer me advice and correction, specifically when I’ve not asked for it.
If you’re like me, you might find yourself on the receiving end of some unsolicited advice some day. Rather than taking a drastic step such as jumping out a window, here are some thoughts and tips on responding to unsolicited advice.
First, before you decide how to respond to the unsolicited advice, ask yourself a few questions to analyze the advice:
Is the advice giver qualified to offer the advice? A person who has the experience or expertise in their advice topic is more credible, and one I’ll be more likely to accept advice from, than someone who has no knowledge or expertise on a topic and is just sharing random opinions.
What’s the advice giver’s motivation? You may not know exactly, but sometimes you can tell based on the person’s delivery, or your past experience with him or her, what the motivation is for offering the advice. If the motivation is positive, such as wanting to help you save time.
Have you heard the same advice before? If you hear some advice once, you may be able to chalk it up to one person’s opinion. However, if you’ve heard the advice from multiple sources, especially qualified ones with positive motivations, the advice just might be something it’s time for you to consider.
Is the advice valid/factual, or just opinion? No matter the source, sometimes advice is just flat-out correct, even if we don’t want to hear it. Such advice on how to correctly install a car seat. Other times though, the advice is simply based on an opinion, and as such, you’re under no obligation to follow it.
Is the advice timely, or is the advisor a “Monday Morning Quarterback”? Some people have a habit of not offering their input and advice beforehand, but freely offer it after the fact. In many such cases, even if the advice is good, it’s too late to put it into action. In other instances, it’s not advice, but criticism disguised as advice, and is equally useless.
What are the consequences of taking, or not taking, the advice? There are consequences for every action and inaction. Even if you don’t agree with the advice, it’s worth looking at the consequences of ignoring it or taking it. Will you lose a friend? Lose your job? Consider these factors when determining how you’ll respond to advice.
Once you’ve asked yourself the questions above, you have some decisions to make as to how to proceed. Here are some options:
1. Thank the person for the advice and put the advice into action. If the advice is legitimate and will make your life better, thank the person for it and do what he or she said.
2. Acknowledge receipt of the advice, then ignore it. I know this sounds harsh, but just because someone offers the advice, doesn’t mean you have to take it. You can say:
“Thank you. I’ll definitely consider that”,
“I’m glad that worked for you,”
“That certainly is an option,”
“That’s a thought,” or
“You may be right,”
then walk away and continue doing what you’ve been doing. Each of the responses above let’s the advisor know that you’ve heard the advice, but doesn’t indicate a commitment to put the advice into action.
3. Acknowledge the advice, then let the advisor know you won’t be putting the advice into play. If you want to make it clear to the other person that you’ve received the advice, but aren’t going to take it, you can say,
“I appreciate you wanting to help. However, I’m comfortable with the way I’m doing X.”
“That’s a good idea, but I think my plan will work just as well. Since I’ve already started, I think I’ll just continue and finish up.”
“I’m sorry you’re unhappy, but I asked for your input beforehand and you didn’t provide any. Therefore, I’m going forward with my plan.”
4. Let the person know you’re not interested in any advice, and if necessary, ask that he or she not offer it again. As a last resort, after considering the advice and it’s source, you are perfectly within your rights to not only reject advice, but ask that the person not offer any again. If you choose this option, be sure to respond calmly, firmly, kindly, and without sarcasm!
“Thank you, but I don’t need advice. I’ve already thoroughly researched what I’m doing and have a plan for moving forward.”
“Thanks. If I need help or any advice, I’ll be sure to come see you.”
“I understand you’re trying to help, but I’m comfortable with the way I’m doing X. I’d rather not talk about other options again.”
Finally, remember, if you ASK for advice you have a responsibility to give it especially careful consideration. If you decide not to take the advice, be sure to acknowledge the advice and explain to the advisor your rationale for taking alternative action. Doing so will help maintain your relationship and will increase the odds that the person will be willing to offer help in the future.
And by the way, if you’re wondering what happened to me after I jumped out the window, I wasn’t hurt because the fall was only about 10 feet or so.
Amy Castro is a workplace and leadership communication expert, speaker, and author. The second edition of her book, Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done, just hit the “shelves” of Amazon.com last month.