Tips on Handling Unsolicited Advice


When people comment to me about how I eat or look or exercise or spend my time, I often want to reply with stellar sarcasm. For example, one day walking back into my office with a Whole Foods bag in hand, a random gentleman said, “Ah, eating healthy! That’s the way to go, that’s go!”. I have no idea who this guy is or how he magically knew it was a salad from the cold bar.I’m sure he meant nothing by it. He seemed quite pleased with his observation. Still, I wanted to reply, “Actually, they’re organic donuts. Want one?!”. Instead I smiled, nodded, walked away, and rolled my eyes after passing. 

He didn’t know that such remarks are one of my pet peeves. Then again, why does “everyone” feel the need to comment to strangers, acquaintances, or colleagues about their eating habits? And it’s not just eating habits. I have friends who deal with this unsolicited comments, advice, and general observations frequently.

Some regularly hear how “healthy” their lunches are or aren’t, or how great it is that they exercise so frequently or don’t. Others are told they should watch their weight loss, as they’re looking “so slender now!” (She’s fine). Still others are “too busy” or “too single” or “too into their relationship” etc. etc. Mind you, none of these friends asked for the opinions they were given. The comments were just offered. 

There is of course a time and place for unsolicited advice. But those instances are rare, in my opinion. So, aside from replying with some Grade A snark, how should one respond to unsolicited advice/comments? Here are some tips; I’d love to hear what constructive approach you have found that works well. (Operative word being “constructive”.)

  1. Remember that most of the time, the comments are about the person making them, not about you. Perhaps they care and don’t know how to properly show it. Perhaps they are insecure and your actions are a trigger. Consider the context. This will help with letting it go.
  2. Just ignore it. If it’s via email or text or some similar form of media, delete it and let it go. If the comment is given in-person, offer the ol’ smile and nod, and move on. I know this can be hard, but remember that opening up a dialogue could make the situation more frustrating. 
  3. However, opening up a dialogue could help the person realize they have offended or irked you. It depends on your relationship with them and the situation. If you choose to tell them how their remarks make you feel, acknowledge their likely intent to help. The person probably meant well, but failed in delivery and may not realize they have touched on one of your own triggers. 
  4. Depending on the situation, you could flat out say that you are not looking for advice on this particular matter. Do so kindly, though, so as not to get into a back and forth. You don’t need to justify your behavior (assuming we’re not talking about anything illegal or harmful right now…), you’re simply asking the person to refrain from highlighting/commenting on your actions. 
  5. Take a breath and consider whether your emotional response is because there is some truth to what they are saying. If so, take what works and leave the rest. Sometimes, even if it’s hard to admit, the advice may be worth considering. Think it over, implement what you’re comfortable with/ready for, and forget the rest. Let it go.

I’m saying “let it go” a lot, because much of responding to unsolicited advice is about letting go. It’s about your mindset. It’s you actively choosing to figuratively and maybe literally walk away. 

When Unsolicited Advice is OK

There are times, of course, when unsolicited advice is appropriate. If a person’s physical or mental health are at stake, then hopefully someone who cares about them will step in and try to help.  Outside of that, if you are on the receiving end, try some of the tips I listed above. If you need, vent to a good friend to help you refrain from engaging with the person who is irritating you. Unless, having that crucial conversation will help in the long run. 

If, reading this, makes you realize that you are often the giver of unsolicited advice, ask yourself why. Be honest with yourself. Maybe you can work on more effective ways to show you care. Or maybe you will identify some areas of insecurity that you can work to strengthen.

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