What to Do About That Person Who Won’t Stop Giving You Unsolicited Advice
The tips might be useful. But don’t be fooled about what motivates the speaker.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
People who give you advice all the time are just trying to be nice, right? To teach you and help you break through barriers? While that motivator can be there, too, you might want to be a little wary of someone who always chimes in their two cents or rethink what you say yourself.
Four studies that point to one conclusion
As summarized by Dr. Art Markman for Psychology Today, a set of four studies led by Michael Schaerer looked at how giving advice influences a person's sense of power. Each study focused on power perception slightly differently, but all relied on participants filling out scales to measure the desire for or current feelings of power.
In the first study, the researchers asked participants to either think about and describe a situation where they gave advice, or just a regular conversation. Everyone filled out a scale to measure how much power they felt afterward. Those who had given advice showed they felt more powerful.
Two more of the studies focused on whether individuals who want to boost their power tend to give advice. These studies found that individuals who want the upper hand do in fact tend to be more loose lipped about offering guidance.
Finally, the researchers gave participants a chance to give advice online. They then told the participants that the person who got their message either did or did not read the advice. This study found that giving advice increased a sense of power for the participants, especially for those who were interested in gaining more power. When the participants thought others hadn't taken their advice, their sense of power went down rather than up.
As Markman interprets, taken together, these studies indicate that, even if you're not actively out to take the reins over others, giving advice can make you feel like you have some sway, which helps you feel more powerful. And if the idea of more power makes you drool, you're probably more likely to look for opportunities to tell others what to do.
Applying the work to your everyday interactions
Schaerer's studies suggest that getting yourself into positions where you can give advice can improve your confidence. For example, if you're feeling a little stuck and low on influence and don't have a way to immediately climb the ladder, mentoring would be a simple, positive way to feel better.
But let's look at the research the opposite way, too. If you are feeling more powerful because you're giving out advice like lollipops, what do you suppose the other person is feeling? They might recognize they need to learn or that what you say makes good sense, but you're still forcing them to see themselves as lower than you. Nobody likes to feel less than or incompetent for very long.
So what do you do? You might be able to help your listener feel valued if you simply
1. Balance your advice with positive judgments or observations--that is, by giving them a sense of their own potential. Be careful that your advice simply isn't criticism in disguise. If you advise someone to do a stretch project a certain way, for example, focus just as much on the traits that will let them be successful in that path as on why that particular route would work best. This still lets you be the one doing the analysis and having sway, so your sense of power won't necessarily decline. But because you're pointing out what's good about them, they have a reason to feel some confidence, too. That can make them much more receptive to your words. They might end up even telling others about the great advice they got from you, which might yield more opportunities for you to provide insights.
2. If you want to give unsolicited advice, politely ask permission (e.g., "May I offer a tip for...?"). While this does mean taking the risk they'll say no and that, subsequently, you'll feel a little less powerful, it ensures you don't steamroll the person who's listening, too. They'll appreciate you've let them maintain choice in the conversation, which contributes to their own sense of power.
3. Remember that the need for power shouldn't be an all-consuming driver in your life, especially given that you can't possibly be an expert in everything. Be brave enough to let others direct people around you once in while. Trust that they have wisdom like you, too, and consider what they have to say with an open mind so that your own need for power and control doesn't get in the way of growth. Step up to the plate and speak your mind in kindness when appropriate, but keep your eye on humility if you want to build the trust so crucial to getting ahead and getting the kind of respect-based power that lasts.
And if you're on the receiving end of all the advice? Remind yourself that, for whatever reason, your speaker feels powerless. Let that knowledge calm the hot frustration you might feel at their "guidance", and whenever you can, find ways to encourage them. Point out their successes realistically to others, for example, or let them manage a project. Let them know they have some sway, that they matter. The more you do this, the less they'll try to foist tips on you to see if you accept them as an authority.