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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.   


Comment from Stephen Schmitz
Time: September 9, 2008, 5:05 pm

I agree that 90+% of the time it is best to not offer the advice.

When I do, I often do so by asking them how they have considered the position I secretly hold. e.g. buying a new car – excited about it – How does this compare with the other cars you’ve already test drove? (assuming I’m right that they haven’t really drove any/many).

If it’s something they have already done, like the haircut, then it’s dumb and hurtful to say anything really negative – unless you can do it with humor and the person agrees that the ‘haircut’ was bad.

The other way I do it is to ask the person if they would like some feedback about their plan/decision. Of course, you have to trust that they will say no if they really can’t handle what you might say, a tough thing for some people. By asking permission – and clearly receiving it – the path for exploration is opened.

Finally, if it’s my wife – I don’t say shit! Except that her choice is perfect. ; – }


Comment from LC
Time: September 9, 2008, 10:57 pm

I agree that giving unsolicited advise is almost always inapprorpriate, but not as it relates to your children. I will give my child advise if, but only if, I can tie it into my own behavior and thus appear to make it a positive statement about the two of us. For examle, I might say “boy, are you like me. That’s exactly how I would have done it. God, we are two peas in a pod. Problem is it causes problems.”

Comment from Beth
Time: September 10, 2008, 5:48 am

I heartily agree with the most of your article, but am on the fence about the advice to your children part. That is a particularly tough issue and I can see both your point and Dr. Depaolo’s. My question would be, “When do you consider your children to be “grown?”” I find myself in a situation with my 19 year old son where I completely disagree with some major life decisions he is making and have expressed my concerns, however, I felt that I was reaching a point of driving him away and damaging our relationship, so I backed off. It is very difficult to do that, since I don’t really consider him to be “grown,” but you make a very good point about letting them learn from their mistakes. I do think that it may be easier for men to do that than women. Our mothering instincts are pretty strong. You may keep that in mind when thinking back on your friend’s comment about your hair! It could have been a throwback to her mothering instinct to protect her loved ones from ridicule and embarassment.

Comment from Misty Wycoff
Time: September 10, 2008, 10:38 am

Here’s my quick response. I agree with you to include your kids in the rule.. especially as adults. The way that I teach it is: If you believe that you see something in another’s behavior and it feels “too” important to ignore, you must get permission to speak…… something like.. ” You know I see some aspect of this that you may not and I really would like to comment, but if you would rather that I did not….please let me know.. and I will leave it alone.”

I like your website. I forget to check it out.. thanks. Misty

Comment from Jim
Time: September 10, 2008, 5:24 pm

I like what you wrote about this issue with friends. I am firmly on your side of the argument about not giving unsolicited direction to grown kids, tho’ it is VERY difficult at times. I didn’t want it from my folks and I doubt my kids want me to unilaterally give it to them. I have a couple of times said things like “would you like my input on this choice you are making?” “No” is no. “Yes” requires artful input.

Comment from jenbn8
Time: September 12, 2008, 6:30 pm

I agree with the unwanted advice. I have had advice given to me from friends about my relationship and it really hurt me. For one thing, I didn’t care what they thought because they don’t know the real side of him, and two, their past dating records haven’t always been my favorite. We worked it out and got through it though, so it’s not like it was relationship-killing material! I do like the article.

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