Unsolicited Advice

Talk with me. Don’t talk at me.

I don’t know anyone who likes getting unsolicited advice. Especially the kind that comes from one parent to other. The abundance of parent blogs, though, shows us that people aren’t really averse to offering or reading advice. So the issue is really around ‘unsolicited’.

If you’re an avid advice-giver, you may want to check your methods.

What makes advice awkwardly unsolicited? Here’s a story:

As the warmer spring weather hits our community, my running-errands fashion leans towards formal beach wear; shorts, t-shirts, a pair of sunglasses, and the easiest footwear I can find. Sometimes that means flip flops.

In the schoolyard, one of the parents walked straight up to me and said “You wear flip flops here?” and then immediately launched into a lecture to tell me “You’re going to get plantar warts because you wear flip flops. I did, and the doctor told me it was because of my flip flops. You shouldn’t wear them. You should always wear shoes.”

I was annoyed. I was comfortable in my flip flops, but annoyed.

I don’t want plantar warts—I am sure it sucked for her when she had them—but I didn’t need an amateur medical lecture in the school yard. So how does she share a little wisdom without sounding like an ass? Here’s another way to share similar advice.

“Hey, nice flip flops.” Then pause. After moment, say, “I don’t wear them anymore. I got plantar warts once, and my doctor told me it was because of the flip flops.” Again, a short pause. If the flip-flopped person doesn’t turn away, perhaps offer a little more. “I’ll admit it surprised me when my doctor told me. Have you ever had problems?”

Did you see the difference?

Unsolicited advice 1) is relentlessly directed at my action, 2) assumes the person knows everything about my current situation, 3) is delivered as though the person is clearly smarter and more informed than I am, 4) is shared as a fact, and 5) is not requested, obviously.

I don’t mind someone telling me about their quirky life or medical issues, or even their opinions on the world—within reason, of course. It’s how I learn new things and deepen friendships (and let’s be honest; I also get inspired for blog topics). However, where fruitful conversation trips over into unsolicited advice is simply the delivery.

As a dad, I get plenty of “wisdom” offered to me on the playground. Parents who believe that they are smarter and more experienced at parenting offer plenty of helpful hints to make me a better person. Some of it is useful.

But unless you are an expert and my life is in imminent danger, talk with me, not at me. If I want your advice, I will ask.

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