On Listening, Opinions and Unsolicited Advice

Today, I received some unwanted advice. At first, it made me really angry. I’d simply wanted to share a compliment I’d received with a close friend. While she acknowledged the compliment, she followed up with some thoughts about the overall situation. I felt so defeated. Why hadn’t she just affirmed how nice it was (and why had I needed affirmation in the first place)? Why had she assumed I needed guidance?

Then, I took a moment to reflect. Often the situations that make us most emotional are intended for learning.  Truth be told, I am the queen of giving unsolicited advice. I am a consummate know-it-all and a notorious fixer (in the most endearing of ways, of course). For the most part, these qualities come from a loving place - a place that doesn’t want others to experience unnecessary pain or heartache. However, there is a small part of my advice-giving nature that comes from a place of seeking importance. While my end intention is always to help others, I can confirm that there have been times where my “helping” was not well-received.  

So here I was, being given a taste of my own medicine; and it didn’t taste good. Like any good self-awareness junkie would do, I set an intention to listen more and talk less. To listen selflessly, ignoring the ego-driven desire to comment or insert opinions. To simply be there for others and to show empathy unless asked to do otherwise.

During this process, I remembered a brilliant, yet subtle technique my dear (and wise) friend Kristin would often use in our conversations. Her technique is so simple and powerful: she’d simply ask for permission before offering advice. If our conversation came to a point where she had a suggestion, she’d simply say, “Do you mind if I offer some unsolicited advice?” The question made it so much less intrusive. Of course, I never said no. The question does so much: it serves as a gateway. By asking for permission, it puts the advice giver in a more humble position. It also prepares the receiver to truly hear and appreciate the advice (rather than be bombarded with it, which is only bound to make someone defensive). Finally, and most importantly, it gives the receiver the permission to disagree without being defensive. I realized as I processed the above scenario how much more valuable she made her advice by simply confirming that it was welcome. Wow (don't worry, I contacted her immediately to thank her for her tactfulness and brilliance).

Of course, asking for permission before sharing an opinion isn't always necessary or possible. However, I'm committing to listen more, talking less and asking this one simple question before I interject: Do you mind if I offer some unsolicited advice? I hope this phrase serves as a powerful tool for you too!