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Why I Never Give Unsolicited Advice

August 21st, 2009 by Bob Bly

TQ, a friend of many years, does not understand a rule I live by, which is: never give unsolicited advice.

Here are 5 reasons why I do not give unsolicited advice — and why I am not crazy about getting it, either:

1 — If other people really wanted your advice, they would ask for it.

2 — People don’t value advice unless they seek it out. And even then, they don’t really value advice all that much unless they PAY for it.

3 — The giver of unsolicited advice often makes the erroneous assumption that the receiver has goofed because of lack of knowledge.

What the giver does not realize is that the receiver either (a) does not agree with the giver’s opinion or (b) has made the error because of lack of time — or because fixing it is not a priority.

4–The giver of unsolicited advice may claim his motive is purely to be helpful, but the action is almost always driven in part by a conceited desire to show off (what he perceives as) his superior knowledge.

As such, it comes across as argumentative, arrogant, and annoying — not kind, friendly, and helpful.

5 — The advice giver erroneously assumes that the topic in question is a priority to the recipient.

In fact, it may not be a priority. Often, it is not even the least bit important.


This entry was posted on Friday, August 21st, 2009 at 4:29 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

98 responses about “Why I Never Give Unsolicited Advice”

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  4. Terrance Charles said:

    I definitely agree with that, and a big one you mentioned “People don’t value advice unless they seek it out. And even then, they don’t really value advice all that much unless they PAY for it.”

    Once people pay for information advice it now gives it a higher percieved value and they have to get their money’s worth, so they pay more attention and use this advice.

  5. Arun Agrawal - Ebizindia said:

    Hi Bob

    I assume you are talking about advice given personally to a friend or acquaintance.

    I feel it is still all right to write useful and informative articles or blog posts that give useful hints to people for use now or later.

    What do you say about that mode of advice?

  6. J.Lynn said:

    Tell people something they know already and they will thank you for it.
    Tell them something new and they will hate you for it.

  7. J.Lynn said:

    Tell people something they know already and they will thank you for it.
    Tell them something new and they will hate you for it.

  8. Scott Lucas said:

    Oh how true you are Bob. Here’s a personal story to back you up 🙂

    I use to work with someone who would share their advice/opinions on topics work related, and non. Most times I would be doing something completely different while he’s talking to me thinking “I should” be listening?!

    The worst thing is that I NEVER once asked for this person to share any advice… unless I asked for it first which maybe happened less than 5 times.

    I asked him once, “Do you like hearing yourself speak?”

    He didn’t like that and responded with “I gotta have an intelligent conversation with someone at work so it might as well be me.”

    As I was laughing he asked what was so funny. I told him most people who share advice too willingly are looking for approval for their own advice.

    He huffed and puffed, and attempted to re-direct what he thought was my lack of not listening into being disrespectful when he spoke.

    Needless to say, he’s the one who got transferred to another store. Not me 🙂

    See ya later Bob,

    Scott Lucas
    AKA- Scottro

  9. Bob Bly said:

    Arun: If it is on a blog or article, it is NOT unsolicited advice, because people are actively seeking it out and voluntarily reading it.

  10. Bonnie Lowe said:

    I think it’s human nature to want to help people with our expertise, whether they ask for that help or not. For example, I was recently tempted to give unsolicited advice to someone who created a website designed to “sell” her husband (get him a job). I saw several ways it could’ve been improved.

    But I agree with you, Bob. Even when well-intended, unsolicited advice is rarely welcomed or appreciated. Heck, even solicited advice can get you into trouble if you’re not careful how you word it. 😉

  11. Mark Nolan said:

    Thanks for this article Bob, you really said it well. I totally agree with you.

    I know someone who always nags people with his annoying unsolicited advice and critiques. Everyone avoids him.

    On the other hand, I never give free advice. Even when people seek out your advice you should either decline to give it, or charge a high price for it.

    As Dan Kennedy said, “If you give people unlimited access to your time, they won’t value or implement your suggestions.” Even when people pay a lot of money for advice they often fail to follow through. But at least if you were well paid to waste your time it is not as bad, haha.

  12. Joseph Knight said:

    You’re performing almost every one of the 5 bullet points right here and now.

    Thanks for the advice.

  13. Bob Bly said:

    Joseph: I don’t understand your comment.

  14. Jan Waldner said:

    I’m asian and I’ve lived among westerners here in the Americas for nearly 30 years. Your points are right when it comes to westeners, however, where I come from, people always welcome advices and don’t react negatively to advices as most westeners do, even when the advice comes from a stranger.
    I must admit that I was raised to give and receive advices. But I also admit that this has given me a lot of trouble and negative feedback.
    I guess the western philosophy is “Shut up, because I already know what you’re going to say, and if I don’t know it, I certainly don’t want you to be the one who teaches me that”.
    I’m an engineer and there are a lot of knowledge that I have and I notice that some people need, but because of their pride I often resist the temptation of openning my mouth.
    I do believe that when knowledge is shared it can change our environment for good.
    You’re right when you say that an advicer is showing off, but I think this is not 100%, I’m sure a significant part of advicing is legitimate help. But even if a person is showing off, I’m willing to take the advice and use it for my benefit. After all, is free stuff, with some publicity, but free anyways.
    But after all these years of observation I’ve come to the sad conclusion that instead of advicing people, I’ll better switch to the other side where I take advantage of their lack of knowledge. It is more profitable and appreciated.

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  16. Ken Siew said:

    I very much agree with you Bob. That’s why having a blog is a great way to share advice and knowledge with people who are really interested. If they’re not, they would leave before they finish reading the headline.

    Even though it’s not an explicit rule I live by, I realize that I somehow internalized the idea quite a while ago. I don’t usually give advice to others, unless they come asking for it. It makes your life easier (not coming as showing off and getting all the contemptuous eyes), and it makes sure you’re getting the right message to the right people.

    Gotta admit that sometimes it’s still tough to resist the temptation to advise someone!

    Thanks for this enlightening post.

  17. getagrip said:

    The problem I’ve seen more often than not is that what is often given *isn’t* advice, it’s orders and directions on how to fix the problem with the implication that the recipient is stupid if they don’t take the “advice”. So if I propose unsolicited advice, I’m very careful and phrase it in what has worked for me and try to include some things they may want to try, rather than have to do.

    There is also a big difference between someone venting, and someone searching for a real solution needing advice. Often people are venting, like my wife, and don’t want advice of any kind, they want sympathy with their situation. So when you try to “fix” their issue with your advice, you’re really ignoring the point of the conversation from their end and you percieve it as they’re ignoring your advice.

  18. Torsten said:

    In german, there’s a saying which would roughly translate to “unwanted advice is a vice”. I’m all with you: Giving people advice that they have not asked for is rude and most often creates the opposite of the desired outcome – that is inducing resentment instead of thankfulness.

    It took me quite a while to learn that more often than I thought, there’s a reason why people do something, and what I thought would be great advice does not translate to their situation easily. Most of what works for me won’t work for them – they have different frames of reference, different values, different goals. So even if they did what I did, it would not make them happier or help them reach their goals.

    I’ve learned that to be heard, you have to listen beforehand – and then carefully consider if what you think *might* work could work in their world and under their reference framework for making decisions. You can’t make anyone do something – all you can do is to describe what works for you. But only if you’re very sure that their environment is much the same and that they think alike – and then hope that having showed them your way sparked an idea on how they themselvel can tackle their problems in a new way they had not thought about.

    Anyway, thanks for your post that does a great way of summarizing why advice will hardly work if it is not asked for.

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  20. Srinivasan said:

    I am having this as my resolution for 2010.. Sticking to it for most of the time. All the point mentioned as absolutely true.

  21. Anonymous said:

    I got here by Googling “unsolicited advice.” I agree with you about unsolicited advice. I think there is a difference between advice about concrete skills like engineering versus advice about life or relationship situations, where people may want to “vent” or just get a feel for where they are in a situation. If you think about the difference between a novelist and a mechanic it is helpful. The mechanic is supposed to fix the car. The novelist is supposed to describe in great detail and complexity how we feel about the car and all the relationships between the mechanic, the driver, the children of the driver, what happens one morning when the driver is in a hurry and runs a red light, etc.

  22. Omar said:

    I give advice all the time. I need to cut back. I don’t want to appear conceited. It does give one a boost of confidence that you are able to provide answers to their problems. It is best to wait for someone to ask for your opinion

  23. Angel said:

    I also give advice all the time. And you know what? Does not work at all. It´s a waste of time and energy. Completely agree on number 4th argument! It´s a show off profile. I have to cut down that thing. So, now I understand lawers, MD and consultants.

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  26. mj said:

    I heard about a psychology study that found that when people give unsolicited advice, they feel very good, and when people receive unsolicited advice, they feel terrible.

    It seems to me that most unsolicited advice is very unhelpful because the person giving it really doesn’t understand your situation. You can keep explaining it forever, but they think they have a simple solution that is going to fix all your problems. It’s actually kind of insulting.

  27. George said:

    If a relative comes to you asking for money, does that not entitle you to give advice to get them out of the situation that requires money?

    >It seems to me that most unsolicited advice
    >is very unhelpful because the person giving
    >it really doesn’t understand your situation.

    Bullpuckey. If my sister needs money to pay the rent while she’s a student, yet she’s living in an apartment that costs twice the minimum rent for the locale and she’s not seeking even part-time work, then you, I, and everyone else reading this post fully understands the situation.

  28. Sebi said:

    Thank you for this excellent article. My experiences confirm what you say. I did not often give unsolicited advice in recent years but everytime I did I regreted it.

  29. John C said:

    “1 — If other people really wanted your advice, they would ask for it.”

    Wow Mr. Bly, as a famous copywriter you should have known that in marketing nobody ever asked for some of the most famous of brands.

    Nobody asked for alkaline batteries, so why is Duracell #1?

    Nobody asked for oversized tennis rackets, so why did Prince rise to #1 in the market?

    Nobody asked for a tennis shoe with a waffle bottom. Everyone was wearing old fashioned basketball shoes. So why did Nike become #1 if nobody asked for them?


    I’m surprised at you. If your friend was dying of cancer and you knew about a revolutionary treatment that worked, would you keep silent if
    they said they were going to use chemotherepy?

    People OFTEN don’t know they are doing things the hard way. That they are hurting themselves and they don’t know it. That there is a clearly BETTER way. It’s impossible for them to ask.

  30. TM said:

    @ John C: I think you’re missing the point. It’s one thing to inform a cancer patient friend that you’ve heard of an alternative treatment. It’s another thing altogether to lecture or instruct them that they SHOULD do this alternative treatment. it’s not the same thing.

    in the first approach, you would tell your friend, “I read about this new treatment, called blah blah blah, are you interested to hear more?” and if they say “no thanks, I don’t believe in anything alternative” then you shut up.

    In the unsolicited advice approach you would say “you really should try this new treatment called blah blah blah” and proceed to talk lat length about it despite them saying or indicating that they’re not interested.

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  34. Dan said:

    The best unsolicited advice doesn’t sound like advice and it doesn’t come at a time the issue that’s being addressed is already the current focus of the recipient. It comes hours or days later in a form that is in no way focused on the recipient.

    It’s best if it’s never noticed as advice, but somehow, if it takes me a minute or two to suspect that a particular bit of information was probably advice specifically for me, I don’t get nearly as irritated. If it’s actually practical, I might even appreciate the insight as well as the effort that was taken to be polite.

    I don’t think I’ve met anyone under the age of 50 who really good at it. I’m not sure how much that has to do with it being a difficult skill to master and how much it has to do with our culture losing the art of subtlety.

  35. Ray said:

    Ok now that I look back on it.. I’m one of the worst offenders at giving unsolicited advice. I think i’ve always felt like I needed to correct people when they share things that are wrong.

    I guess I should shut up more.. 🙂

  36. alice said:

    i completely agree with you Dan that it is very rare for anyone under the age of fifty to give advice and have it actually taken on board. i honestly believe that people have a preconcieved notion of the types of individuals that could possibly give them the knowledge they need to deal with a situation (for example a psychologist or doctor in a suit or someone who embodies the role of an elder). often if the person giving this advice does not fit this profile it would be rejected. just remember, it is not you they are rejecting- just one of your many opinions on a vast array of topics.

    However, if advice is ever given it should be direct and assertive. you are defineatly correct in stating that the art of subtlety has been lost from culture- no one is as skilled at concealment as they believe themselves to be. Most people instantaneously recognise unsolicited advice when it is slipped in to what is never an entirely casual conversation – often because we can detect unconscious changes in the behavioural patterns of the people around us and easily deduce fakery.

    Giving unsoilicited advice ‘is’ a show off profile- but i believe its because advice is often not the roll-off-the-toungue, spontaneous and boastful display of ego that it is believed to be by some, rather the final product of careful thought, consideration and ones entire inventory of knowledge and experience. In a way people giving advice will seek approval of it- because it is more than an opinion-it is a piece of yourself.

    I personally believe that unsolicited advice is required if the person you believe needs it is engaged in something that is causing great detriment to themselves or those around them. just understand that its not a personal attack if its not well recieved- nor is their situation entirely hopeless because you failed to save the day. by the same token advice should not encorporate an attack on their circumstance or mental capacity. if in doubt, visualise the difference in the way you would provide advice to someone whom you greatly admire and respect in comparison to the individual you believe ‘needs’ your advice to rectify an issue. learn from and respect their opinion, constantly bring reference back to their point of view- not yours, make your argument clear, and justify where your coming from and the logic for it.

    often its impossible to know someone’s entire circumstances- despite the constant venting you may have had to endure. it is often the case that the reason people want to give advice is they can no longer stand the repetative venting- and if that be the case it should be stated. if what you need is a reassurance someone will be ok- ‘ask’ for it. if your not ‘telling’, then you may be surprised to know that lots of people are more than happy to ‘tell’ you how they are and are not ok.

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  39. jaro said:

    Following statement which that
    Unwanted advice is nothing else but criticism- is just an ovesimplification:

    My mentors, relatives and friends gave me lot of them and I am grateful. I wish I would hear more- seems many people do not wish other to succeed or to be happy. We live in narcistic society

  40. Peter said:

    Hi, over the years I have had this growing habit of giving advice and passing on information. Some of it has saved thousands of lives whilst with others it just falls on deaf ears. So I am determined NOT to give anymore advice. I will see how I go, although it will be hard when I see someone facing cancer or heart attack or rushing ever onwards towards financial ruin or even death I will in future try to keep my mouth SHUT


  41. Jeff said:

    Another reason I wish was included in the 5 above: Often the advice giver assumes they know more about the receiver’s life than they do and assumes the receiver is not already doing what the advice suggests when they are, which only infuriates the receiver who feels patronized and that their intelligence is being questioned.

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  46. Char said:

    Did you ever try giving unsolicited advice to someone who annoys you with it all the time?

    They do not receive it well at all. They know everything though, so you should be listening to them ramble on for hours about what they think you should do, but don’t ever dare tell one of these know-it-all’s what they should do. They are defensive, offended, and angry…but we are supposed to take all their infinite wisdom and apply it all directly to our lives. I also noticed most times, people giving this wonderful so called advice out, are usually big messes themselves.

    Just something else to think about, most people just want someone to listen to them they dont want to hear about everything you think you know! When someone is rambling on and on about what they think I should do, my only thought is please just SHUT UP!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD…JUST STOP TALKING!!

  47. AC said:

    @Char. I love your comments! You are right. Usually, the people dishing out the advice, or criticism get HYPER defensive and offended when you TELL them anything. They want to be heard as if they are GODS but don’t want to listen to the input of others (who more often than not are more wise and knowledgeable than they are). Strangely enough, I knew a girl like this and when I gave her my input (based on years of personal experience and wisdom), she actually took my advice and it WORKED! She never thanked me though…she was too proud and boastful. I believe this stems from LOW SELF-ESTEEM. The people who do this want the world to think them gurus, gods, angels, saviors, etc. That’s why their ego is so easily bruised when you reject their advice/criticism. They do it for themselves because it’s a way to show off what they think is SUPER-INTELLIGENCE! They don’t do it out of the love that allegedly comes from their hearts but as a shameless form of self-promotion to make themselves appear grandiose when they themselves have MORE problems than you! Take pride in the fact that your life is way better than theirs! They are swimming in problems. Usually, people want someone to understand them, to take their “side” (so to speak), and just LISTEN. People vent and don’t necessarily need a fix. These arrogant people assume the complexities of the human race and life can be fixed by a “rubber-band” solution. It’s arrogant to even think that way. Unless you are discussing something concrete like fixing a car, the human mind and experience is so complex and people are so different that it’s best to ask questions to the person venting and learn more about them and THEN speak your mind with regards to the person specifically! I’ve met only a tiny handful people who do this and they aren’t trained psychiatrists, doctors or even lawyers! They were UNDERSTANDING (empathic) human beings and there are SO FEW OF THEM LEFT ON EARTH TODAY!!! Such people are arrogant, conceited, stuck up, snobby, insecure, selfish, shallow, materialistic, and downright stupid (I even had a doctor like this and I dumped her immediately). They are basically saying: “I am smarter than you, I demand you follow my instructions, lest you be stupid forever.” They are not truly wise nor smart but some of the dumbest types of people out there.

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  49. whatever said:

    I think people who continually give unsolicitated advice lose their credibility in their circle. Sometimes people have good intentions but other times they are giving advice as an attempt to validate themselves. This is particulary true about older people who have not accomplished very much in their lives who are in armchair quarterback mode because they never got their hands on the ball in life. That is when you get statements like “Do what I did” when you should be hearing “Don’t make the same mistakes I made”. They have selective memory and that memory tells them they never made any mistakes and the usually blame all their problems on someone else. They are not communicating authentically so their advice is worthless. Here is the test: If someone has advice on every topic that comes up and never says “I don’t know” about anything, ever, then they are insecure, looking for validation and craving attention because everyone in their circle has started to avoid them for the same reason you are.

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  51. Missy said:

    I totally agree with this article! It read my mind! My mum would always give me unwanted advice whenever I do talk to her, even if I don’t..I know people are wanting to help, but that causes the other person not to listen. Whenever I recieve unwanted advice, it makes me feel like the other person doesn’t really understand and that they are waiting for me to shut up so that they could talk. Which is why I keep a journal instead. That is why people dont want to take advice. They want someone to vent to. Someone who would LISTEN and feel they are pain. They want sympathy. I feel the same.

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  53. Audry said:

    Have this friend who always gives me out of the blue advice (unasked for). Telling me what to do for business, with my health, etc. Finally had enough and told her, “I don’t want your opinion and if I do I will ask.” This did not stop her, she just went on to tell me, “I am going to tell you anyway.” This went on for six more times the same day! We were on the phone and she continued to tell me what I needed to do. I hung up after I told her I don’t want advice and she continued on.
    I finally realized she is not a friend because she would not stop. My life is good, I have a good job, so why is there a need for her to put her nose in my business? I have dropped this friend and moved on.

  54. Mike said:

    Number 5 was my favorite.

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  57. BeingTheWriter said:

    My mom is terrible about this. She just gave me writing advice – WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, she says (you know, I’ve heard this so many times I plan to tattoo it on my ass). I’m a paranormal, horror, and fantasy writer. While it’s important for me to use the real emotions I’ve experienced, my knowledge of characters from the people I’ve known, using real experiences as inspiration, it isn’t necessary for me to craft a fictionalized version of everything I have lived through to be a real writer. No, I haven’t been published yet, which is why this advice comes my way. My mom knows how much it matters to me and she simply is trying to help. But lately, I’ve been writing more and making headway with some stories I’ve already written in terms of getting critiques and feedback and rewriting based off that feedback. So when I hear advice like this when I AM doing well and when I do NOT need the advice, I end up feeling like shit like I’m still not doing it right. It’s like I hear her saying, “God, you are still doing it wrong.” She doesn’t mean it, I know she doesn’t. But still…damn unsolicited advice.

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