Why unsolicited advice is not helpful (and what to do instead) – Integrally Alive Podcast

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What is the worst advice you ever got?
I’m going to bet that it was probably unsolicited advice. I think for me it is.

On helping, unsolicited advice, listening and friendship…

A kind of unsolicited advice that always feels funny to me when I receive it, is about computer and technical stuff. See, not many people know it, but I worked as a web developer, so I know my work my way around computers. And actually for some, I’m kind of a geek; I use Linux, I install it myself, I installed my own website, etc.

But the assumption when someone doesn’t know me, is: first I’m a woman, so I must be on some level, tech verse, maybe afraid I can’t be that technical. Second, I’m into human psychology, intuition and embodiment, so I must hate computers. And based on these two assumptions I get a lot of well-meaning help on technical stuff that I don’t need at all.

And one of the funny thing that happens is they will ask me so many questions, basic questions,that that I did ask my clients back then. I almost always know from the beginning all the questions they will ask and how the conversation is going to unravel… and that none of it will help.

I can laugh about it, because that’s not so personal, but sometimes it can get really upsetting when it’s about personal challenges.

I mean, losing time over a technical conversation is just losing time. But when it comes to receiving unsolicited advice on your personal challenges, it can feel really bad, making things worse.

For example, were you ever given the “Everything happens for a reason” lecture? Now, you still have your challenge, but on top of that, you need to justify why and how you got there. And I mean this “justify”.

I’m not saying you should never look into the patterns of your challenges and be self aware but I’m saying that looking into it now may not be the priority. Often actually, the first priority is get out of this situation. So don’t look at the past, look at the future: how to get out of there. And then, if applicable and helpful, then, yeah, figure out how to never find yourself in this situation again.

But, second: that is spiritual bullshit! Not everything happens for a reason. Believing this often comes from a need to make sense of everything, and that feels very safe because it gives the illusion of control, of a cause and effect. But not everything happens for a reason and letting go of the “Why is this happening to me?” question is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself to get unstuck. Because why we always keep you in the past and you can get stuck a very. long. time. There. Check the episode : “Why” will get you stuck for more on that.

Why is it so upsetting to get unsolicited advice?

First, it dooesn’t feel like you’re being understood or even heard.

And it doesn’t feel like you are being seen as a responsible, wise adult. Now, I know. I recognize that we don’t always behave and / or feel as a wise, responsible adults; But we all have that potential to be that wise, responsible adult. So we should also let the space for the other person to be that version of themselves first before assuming: “You’re a mess”.

And then when you get these advice, you’re still struggling, and now part of it is getting rid of this unsolicited help because it won’t help; Probably it is not even on spot.

OK, you don’t want to do that to your friends, but what if you still want to help and you think that you can add valuable value to your friends, what you what can you do?

So how can I still help?

First, don’t assume anything. Don’t assume you know where the person is at, even if you know them. Even if they are your friends, don’t assume you know where they are at and don’t assume more than anything, that you know what they need. What you know about their life is a tiny fraction of what their life really is. Again, even if it’s a close friend, you might not know, you probably don’t know all the ins and outs of the situation they are in.

And then don’t assume your answer is the best for that person. You know, there is this syndrome: “If it worked for me, it will work for you.” Well, that too is bullshit. If it worked for you, that’s great. It doesn’t mean it’s the panacea for everyone.

So instead, what can you do?

Listen and get curious

  1. Notice you have this “Oh, I want to help, I know what to do.”… coming up.
  2. And refrain to talk, to give that piece of advice!
  3. If you really, really must, and really, really think that they should know, at least ask first:”Hey, I think I have a solution for you. Do you want to hear it?” This is the very basic of what you can do.
  4. And if the person says, no, shut up! Even if you think: “Oh, but that would work!” Shut up.
  5. Instead of talking, listen, because the better way to help anyone is to get curious. It is to ask questions. Is to understand more of what they are going through.

Think about it: when was the last time you started to explain something that you were struggling with, to a friend, while s/he was silently listening, and you ended up by: “Oh, thank you, I’ve got the solution!”. Following your train of thoughts while making an effort to get them clearer for your friend to understand, having a sounding board space, allowed you to organize your thoughts, even if it was messy in the beginning.

So listen, listen and get curious. Because you might not have the solution, but your friend has it. If you ask good questions, your friend will come to the realization himself, which is the best thing that can happen for him/her. The solution is not just the tip, the final answer, it is the process, the how you get there.

Hey, look at that! It looks an awful lot like the basis of coaching?

How will you teach these to a friend who needs it?

And first, take a step back and consider: On what side are you most often?

  • On the “I want to help you” side?
  • Or on the “I really didn’t need to hear that” side?

Where do you fall? Probably on both, but you may have a pattern, notice it.

And next… How would you teach a friend how to do this?

Because if you are on the receiving end of that, you might want to find a way, a kind way, to let your friends know: “Thank you, but no thank you, and please don’t do this anymore in the future. And here is why, and how you can support me better.”

Well, if you really don’t know how to do this, you’re welcome to send them this article/podcast.
But it might be useful to know how to find your own way to handle the situation when it happens. Because it will. We humans love to help each other. And don’t always know how to do it in the best ways.

(Intro music for the podcast: “Tiny people”, by Alexei De Bronhe )