Advice on Unsolicited Advice
October 24, 2012 4 Comments
During the “bio-break” at a professional association event, the seasoned professional speaker held up my business card and studied it. Shifting her gaze from the card to me she said, “You should consider changing your business name. Small talk sounds like small stuff. You need to focus on the big results.”
Her large blue eyes locked onto mine, waiting for a response.
My internal conversation, which lasted for about 2 seconds, went something like this:
Do I disagree and tell her that other professional speakers had told me that it was a catchy business name? Do I agree with her and say, I too, had wondered if the phrase, “small talk” might seem too soft-skill?
Wait . . . why is she telling me this? I didn’t ask for her advice. Is she fishing for business? Is this why she asked for my card? (She had told me earlier she was looking at adding on a consultant/coaching aspect to her business).
I responded with a non-committal, “hmmm.”
Reflecting later on the conversation, I felt annoyed.
I hadn’t asked for her advice. I didn’t even really know the woman. She was merely a professional acquaintance with whom I had exchanged perhaps a dozen words prior to that day. What right did she have to give me unsolicited advice?
Even when someone has the “right” to give unsolicited advice (e.g. mother-in-laws), it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
“Unsolicited advice is the junk mail of life.”—Bern Williams
As I reflected on the conversation further, I felt pangs of guilty recognition.
Shame. Shame. Shame on me! How many times had I given unsolicited advice? I needed to get the log out of my own eye.
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. –Matthew 7:5, NLT
My poor husband had first been the recipient of my “helpful” advice when, during his business presentations that I sat in on early in our marriage, I would take notes of all his grammar and pronunciation mistakes and hand him the list afterwards. Ouch.
Then came my children, whom I homeschooled. Need I say more? Ouch.
And what about the countless times I offered unsolicited advice to people in my professional and volunteer spheres of influence? Ouch.
Humbled by my own guilty conscience, I resolved to approach advice differently.
Here’s my advice on unsolicited advice:
1. Don’t waste your time giving unsolicited advice. People who don’t ask for advice are unlikely to listen to it. Of course, this doesn’t apply to blogs and newsletters! If people read them, they are implicitly asking for advice.
2. If you feel extremely compelled to give unsolicited advice, consider:
- Your relationship to the recipient. Only give unsolicited advice if you have the respect of the recipient.
- Asking, “May I give you advice on this?”
- Sharing information from another source, not giving your own opinion.
- Positioning your advice as another way to do something, not the only way.
- Not giving advice “after-the-fact.” It’s like rubbing salt in the wound.
What advice do you have on advice? (I’m giving you permission to give me advice!)