Advice on Unsolicited Advice


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!)



About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

4 Responses to Advice on Unsolicited Advice

  1. Nicola says:

    Great advice Diane! Especially the piece on simply inquiring if someone wants advice. A mentor friend discovered for herself that the part in her that so wants to be “helpful” stems from a place of feeling “helpless” in some area of life. I caught myself giving unsolicited advice the other day. I later ‘fessed up to the person and apologized. Turns out she didn’t mind and in fact took my advice. By simply sharing my experience with her I felt better and it gave us an opportunity to connect in a meaningful way that drew up closer. P.S. Thanks for the solicited advice the other day. 🙂 Just connecting on the subject assuaged my concerns while prodding my mind for solutions.

    • Nicola–I don’t think too many people mind a LITTLE unsolicited advice, but it’s easy to go overboard! I think “sharing of experience” without directly giving advice is a lighter touch way of giving advice!

  2. Meryl Runion says:

    You never know when your ideas could be just what that person needs to hear. But you also never know what you might learn by sharing your thoughts and inviting theirs.

    I confess, I used to think much the same thing about small talk.. Lately I’m more curious than opinionated about my observations. Your colleague seemed to think she knows more about the implications of the word than you do. I give you credit for knowing your market.

    So perhaps something like: “Do you ever find that people dismiss the importance of small talk and the power of what you do because of the word small? Or do most people see it as a need?” Something like that… whatcha think?

  3. Diane Windingland says:

    Hey, Meryl–Asking for clarification definitely beats outright disagreeing with someone. It not only allows the other person to explain more, and gives you time to direct the conversation in a particular direction, if you want to.

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