“Five or ten pounds would really make a difference.”
I stared back, not knowing how to respond. I wasn’t in perfect shape, but I was far from needing a true weight loss plan. The well-meaning advice from my coach seemingly came out of nowhere, and thankfully, I didn’t let it scar me too deeply. But really, when does commenting on someone’s weight, unsolicited, result in anything good?
We all know that one person who willingly shares all of their advice all of the time. They have a fix for everything and convey expertise on every topic under the sun. You can’t open up about your day or voice a problem without them jumping to attention, ready to “help” in the most unhelpful way.
They’re usually well-meaning, but in the end, their unsolicited advice goes in one ear and out the other. Of course, the fact that a friend is listening enough to try to help goes a long way.
Here’s a line up of things well-meaning people do that are almost always totally unhelpful.
Share Their Weight Loss (or Gain) Tips
I shared my story, and chances are, you have one of your own. But the truth is, weight loss is a tricky thing and very individual. Advice in regards to weight loss should come from an expert, not a passerby. Same goes for weight gain.
Katie, a tall, lean woman who is following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, who were built similarly, says, “Someone once told me to just eat a spoonful of butter every morning. I guess they thought I was too thin!”
Tell Their Awful Medical Story
When someone shares that they got a diagnosis or have an upcoming procedure, do not, under any circumstance, tell them your, your uncle’s, or your neighbor’s horror story. They’re worried enough, and being badgered with what can go wrong is the opposite of helpful.
This is especially true when it comes to pregnant women. Those poor gals are anxious enough without hearing a scary story of a week-long labor or emergency procedures for the baby.
Give Financial Advice
Unless you are a trained financial advisor, just don’t. Granted, if you’ve successfully hit some money management milestones, and someone asks for your insight, have at it!
That being said, no one wants to hear about your Bitcoin ventures while they’re struggling to pay off their car. Keep that advice like you keep your money—secure.
Jump in with Kitchen Help
“I like control in the kitchen … when people decide to help stir something I’m working on or check the oven, most of the time it’s harmless, but not always,” says Tasha when asked about how she has experienced well-intentioned, but unhelpful, people.
Kitchens are a sacred place, if you feel inclined to help, ask first, and accept the assignment you are given willingly.
Encourage You to Take “Back Roads”
“My dad is always eager to tell me how to take the back roads on my way to, well, anywhere!” says Mallory. “I’ve reminded him over and over that I just need the address because, hello, we’re living in the world of GPS!”
Try to Assign Blame
Things happen. We can’t help it, and all we can do is deal with it and move forward. Here’s the problem: When someone tries to tell us who to blame, be it a government agency or a deity or that jerk that works in the next cubicle over, nothing changes.
Even if they are responsible in some way, knowing that doesn’t make dealing with or solving the issue any easier. No matter what fate dictates, the past has already happened. All we can do is hope our friends support us by listening with their ears rather than pointing with their fingers.
Offer Job Search Advice
According to LinkedIn, 85 percent of people find a job through networking. Still, it’s preferred by most that when they’re unemployed, you don’t offer your unsolicited advice. That means if your tech-trained brother-in-law is looking for work, he probably isn’t interested in pursuing the teacher’s assistant position at your kids school.
Now, if someone does ask for assistance, don’t shy away from being that networking connection that leads to their next employment opportunity!
Tell People How To Grieve
Lori, who lost a very dear loved one, begs people, no matter how well-intentioned, to not give advice on how to grieve. Oh, and never say it’ll all be better in a specific time frame.
Maybe for you, but not for everyone. Not everyone can bounce back from a broken bone or torn ligament in just a few weeks—why should a broken heart be any different?
Buy Home Decor
Your home decor style is great, but it’s yours! Alicia, a mom who takes great pride in her home, has experienced someone else gifting her things for her home. “I’m just picky about my decor!” she says.
She says that a gift card would be much more useful—that way, the recipient can pick out their own things. And you know what? That’s totally fine. One’s home is a reflection of themselves.
Act Like an Expert on Someone Else’s Child
You probably have great insight from your own parenting experience, but every child is different. What worked for your family might not work for someone else.
“Well-meaning single, or non-kid couples especially, who give unsolicited advice about how to be a parent [is so unhelpful],” shares Jamie, a mom of four. “We once had a woman tell us our son would get typhoid from crawling on the ground. Another lady said we should give him a bath to calm him down at night; ‘It works for every child!’ she said. [My son] hated baths and screamed his head off whenever he was in the water, though.”
So, why do people offer unsolicited advice?
Darren Pierre, PhD, an educator, speaker, and author of the book The Invitation to Love, says that unhelpful advice often comes out of a place of helpfulness. But what advice givers often miss is the key factor of readiness.
Pierre provides a great analogy when it comes to advice giving: “Advice given to people who are not ready to receive is like overwatering a plant. The water is full of nutrients, but when the plant receives too much water, the roots can’t absorb it, and what was done to keep the plant alive actually becomes the weapon that is now drowning it.” Browse the circumstances above; for many, this idea of a drowning plant proves true.
“In layman’s terms, we have to learn to let things be. For those on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, share what you need,” Pierre says. “Perhaps the need is to be heard, to be seen, to feel as though your feelings/thoughts matter—perhaps it’s all three. Whatever your needs are, share them. When we don’t share with those around us what we need, we close ourselves off to love, and open ourselves up for resentment.”
Advice givers have good hearts; they’re well-intentioned. They care, and they want to share their experience. And, often, they’re bold—bold enough to jump into your story and give their two cents.
To best balance the conversation, though, it’s important that the advice receiver respond boldly as well. When unsolicited advice catches you off guard, have a go-to statement ready to fire back.
Natalie Feinblett, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in communication and relationship issues, offers a possible response: “It can be helpful to say something like, ‘Thanks, [but] I’m looking to just be heard right now as opposed to getting advice. It would be most helpful if you could focus on empathizing with me right now. Do you have space for that?’”
If yes, you’ve found a relationship that can weather all sorts of things. And if no, well, it might be best to close the conversation and go your separate ways—the next round of well-meaning, but unhelpful, advice might be right around the corner anyway.
And what’s most important: how to offer truly helpful advice!
It’s really quite simple. Try to only give advice when it’s asked for. If someone believes you to be an expert on, say, weight loss, they’re going to come to you, lay out their problem and ask a few questions that they want you to answer. Then, and only then, should you reply with your recommended course of action.
This idea carries on to parenting matters. If someone prompts you to chime in on potty training, for example, go ahead and speak of your tricks and successes. But if they simply need to vent, be the listening ear they can trust and rely on through this situation and beyond.
Remember, maintaining a quality relationship is more important than being right or smart. First and foremost, choose to be a listening ear. When you feel tempted to help with unsolicited advice, put yourself in their shoes and zip your lips. Your well-meaning advice is best kept to yourself until it is asked for.