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Uninvited Advice: Pros and Cons

There are certain rules of friendship thatare easy to accept because they make absolute sense. For example, One should not gossip about a friend is a difficult rule to challenge. I cannot come up with a single scenario that justifies an exception.

However, there is a friendship rule that is not so easily defended: Do not give friends uninvited advice or feedback. I personally like this rule and I almost always follow it. It is my experience that uninvited advice, like burnt eggs, is bitter to the taste and, worse, can negatively affect a friendship.

One clear exception to this rule is if your friend’s suspect behavior or decision is directly affecting you. Then, of course, it is entirely appropriate to give feedback. But when your friend’s behavior has nothing to do with you, the rule makes great sense.

What makes it so difficult to observe the rule is that we care about our friends and we don’t want to see them suffer. So, when we see them behaving or making a decision that we think will hurt them in some way, we are tempted to give them advice despite not being asked to do so.

Here’s a typical scenario that might tempt you to ignore the Do not give uninvited advice rule. Your good friend has begun dating someone you don’t like. You believe your friend will be hurt by this person, but your friend is blind to what you perceive as the other person’s shortcomings. You justify giving uninvited advice or feedback with the hope you will help him or her avoid being hurt.

I personally made this mistake with a friend who was dating a woman I perceived to be mentally unbalanced. Fearful for his well-being, I volunteered the opinion that the woman was deeply troubled and feared the relationship would end badly. My friend, outraged, attacked me verbally and said some hurtful things. He ended his retaliation by saying, “And besides, who asked you to evaluate her?” Realizing my mistake and valuing his friendship more than being correct, I apologized, saying, “Perhaps I have misjudged her. I’m sorry I’ve offended you. It may be that I’ve rushed to judgment, and you’re correct, you did not ask for my opinion.”

I have also been on the receiving end of uninvited advice and it is never fun. Even feedback about benign little issues can be hurtful. Some time ago, a friend said to me, “I don’t care for your haircut. It’s way too short and not attractive.” I said,”I don’t remember asking you to critique my haircut. Did I miss something here?” She responded, “Well, I’m just telling you—it’s not a good look.” The fact that I’m writing about this incident two years after it happened tells you how unpleasant I found the uninvited critique.

However, having presented the above thoughts, I must share a discussion I had with my Florentine friend, Doctor Bruno Depaolo, about this rule as it relates to child rearing. He questioned the Do not give uninvited advice rule in the following way. When I told him that I made it a policy not to give advice to my grown children unless asked, he said, “I absolutely disagree with that policy. If you see your children making bad decisions, you owe it to them to point out their poor judgment regardless of their age. If they become angry at you, that’s the price you pay as a parent. Your duty to educate and protect them continues as long as you are alive.”

My rejoinder was, “I see your point Bruno and it is a good one. I can’t reject your position because it’s based on genuine concern and a sense of parental duty. However, I choose to put the relationship with my grown children first. If the uninvited feedback generates hostility and the decisions under discussion turn out to be bad ones, I fear my children will no longer perceive me as a person they trust and come to for advice. Additionally, I’m not sure I believe we can or should protect our children from the consequences of their bad decisions.”

We went back and forth a bit as good friends do and then we agreed to disagree, at least in part. However, my discussion with him did prompt me to look more closely at letting the severity of the possible consequences to one’s friend determine whether or not to give feedback. Clearly it’s a judgment call, but I still feel that nine times out of ten, it’s best to withhold advice or feedback unless it is requested.

Finally, I suggest a tactful wording for giving uninvited advice. “Joe, this isn’t any of my business, I know, but for your consideration, please consider the following. I am concerned that your decision to do X may lead to some painful consequences for you for the following reasons. (Give reasons). I know you didn’t ask me for advice about this but I hope you’ll give it some thought.”

I hope this examination of a difficult friendship issue is helpful. We owe it to our friends to make good decisions about when to give—or not give—uninvited advice.

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.