Unsolicited Advice: Helpful or Rude ll By Dorothy Wallis

October 2, 2018
Unsolicited Advice: Helpful or Rude
By Dorothy Wallis

  The need to “help” others or “fixing” the world and all that is wrong with it or whatever needs to be done “the right and proper way” has created a mindset amongst people with good intentions of overstepping the propriety of appropriate boundaries.  It has become commonplace for people to give unsolicited advice even about the simplest of tasks. It is almost a thoughtless reaction by some to tell a stranger or loved one what they “ought to do, should do, or how to do something.” In the mind of those giving this advice it may seem to be helpful or even done presumably from a heartfelt place.  Yet, unless done with permission, it is actually a violation of another person’s autonomy.

  Throughout my life, I have been on the receiving end of unwanted, unasked for advice and I imagine you probably have been too.  Rather than being helpful, it has left me feeling frustrated, distraught and sometimes discouraged. It seems to happen to me especially when I am involved in some physical activity that I am learning.

  Not long ago, I attended an afternoon hula class.  It may look simple, but it is actually very complicated.  There are specific arm and hand motions, along with intricate footwork and beautiful albeit difficult swaying of ones hips.  Putting all of this together is an art. The ongoing drop-in class was huge. There were the old timers that had been going for years and were very skilled, others that had recently joined and then the newbies like myself.  The instructor gave the history of the hula and then began with arm movements. He taught us a basic rotation of our hips with knees bent and then added steps. I was doing well at this point. As he progressed, he sped up the dance and I lagged behind.  I decided to concentrate on just the arms and stopped rotating my hips and doing the dance steps.

  I was having a delightfully enjoyable time gracefully following the arm movements until a lady next to me, who had a measure of hula proficiency, decided to take it upon herself to give me her advice.  “Rotate your hips,” she said sternly, “you need to move your hips, bend your knees, watch me.” The abruptness of her admonishment struck me with the feeling that I had personally sullied the hula dance.  I didn’t say anything. It stopped me in my tracks and my concentration went as well. It took me a moment to regain my composure as I ignored her and let her words fly past me.

  Receiving advice about the obvious is especially frustrating and demeaning.  It has a patronizing quality as if you are a child being told to wear your coat because it is snowing outside.  “Backseat driving” is an example. Telling a friend that has been driving for years, “You need to downshift, or upshift or get in the other lane,” feels rude and insulting.  Taking over another’s process or activity is condescending, “Here let me show you how to cut up that grapefruit.” This kind of offhand advice has an edge to it. Instead of helping another, it may be a form of dominance, an ego boost or one-upmanship disguised as helping.  A seemingly innocent comment when someone is struggling such as, “That’s why I do it this way,” may sound helpful but still signals the thought that the other is doing it wrong.  Telling someone what to do or how to do things sends the message that “I know better than you do.”  It feels powerful for the one giving the advice and can feel controlling to the one receiving it.

  Find out the underlying motivation you have to correct others or give them your opinion.  Perhaps you are critical of yourself and find that you unconsciously criticize others. Observe the effect on others and the areas you are most critical about.  What effect does your negative self-talk have on you? You may have a compulsive need to do things a certain way. Is there only one “right” way? Is it causing harm for others to do it their way?  

Let go of rigid adherence to specific ways of doing or thinking and see things from multiple perspectives. Allow others to make mistakes and allow yourself to learn new methods and experiences from them.

  Even if you truly believe you know a better way of doing something giving advice that is not asked for is usually not welcome.  Instead of being supportive, it often has the opposite effect of disheartening the receiver. When a person is having doubts about their ability, not only will they be reluctant to take your advice but they also may be inclined to stop trying to learn a new task.  If you bluntly give advice or rashly take over a task from someone, you are making assumptions about their abilities and knowledge. It is dismissive and belittling. Being controlled feels disrespectful and will often bring up a reaction of anger and stubbornness.  

Ask Permission
  If you are a person who tends to give unsolicited advice, what assumptions are you making about the other person?  Do you see them struggling and genuinely want to help them out of their frustration or do you see them as incompetent, incapable, weak, or deficient?  You may not believe they are inadequate, yet giving an unwanted opinion or attempting to fix another’s dilemma may imply it. If you sincerely want to help, ask permission to assist them.  Let them determine if they want your help or advice. There are times when taking quick action in an emergency is necessary and you can’t wait to ask. Yet, most of the time it will be apparent when you need to act and when you can take the time to assess a situation to see if your input is welcomed.  

  Recently, I was in the grocery store and turned my cart into an aisle where an elderly gentleman was stooped over and shaking all over.  He looked weak and in trouble. Instead of rushing in, I stood there for a moment and just observed him. He had a portable oxygen tank and seemed to be breathing just fine, but his shaking worried me.  I was thinking, “He looks like he needs help and no one else is around. What if he is having a heart attack?” I went up to him and asked, “Sir, are you alright, do you need help?” He turned and looked at me and replied, “No, thank you dear, I am fine.”  His speech was clear and indicated his honest desire to be left alone. He did not need or want my help. Just then a woman came around the corner into the aisle and went up to him. I assume it was his wife. She had been gathering groceries while he waited.  I was relieved and glad that I did not act hastily. He was in good hands and I did not infringe upon their privacy by asking the reason for his shaking. I respected his dignity by asking permission to assist and honoring his decision to decline.

When you ask permission, you are being thoughtful and helpful.  You are keeping your ego in check while allowing the autonomy and freedom of another.

Respecting Yourself When You Are on the Receiving End
  It took me many years when on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, to not take it personally and let the words and energy go past me without attaching to them.  If this is your story, know that you are not a helpless victim. Being triggered is normal and also points to a place inside where you are not feeling self-assured. If your self-esteem was totally confident you would either truly not care or when annoyed, you would be able to speak up and not allow someone to cross your boundaries.

Being silent while stewing inside and never speaking up is not beneficial.

  You have a responsibility to respect yourself and your friends and family by letting them know when something they are doing does not feel good to you. How else will they know when you feel intruded upon? It helps their growth as well as yours.

  It may feel awkward but when you realize your value, you will be able to trust that setting appropriate boundaries is good for you and for your relationships.  You will no longer attach to the pain of others and make it your own. Feeling upset or rejected from criticism and unwarranted advice will be a thing of the past.

  Whether you are on the giving end of unsolicited advice or on the receiving end, realize that your self-esteem is involved.  When you have healthy esteem you show respect for others and know that you deserve respect from others.

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Dorothy Wallis is a former intern at People House in private practice with an M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy.  She is an International Spiritual Teacher at the forefront of the consciousness movement for over thirty years grounded in practices of meditation, family systems, relationships, and emotional growth.  Her work reflects efficacious modalities of alternative approaches to healing based upon the latest research in science, human energy fields, psychology, and spirituality.

As a leader in the field of emotional consciousness and the connection to mind, body and spirit, her compassionate approach safely teaches you how to connect to your body, intuition and knowing to clear emotional wounds and trauma at the core.  The powerful Heartfulness protocol empowers your ability to join with your body’s innate capacity to heal through holistic Somatic, Sensory and Emotional awareness. www.TheDorWay.com and www.Heartfulnesspath.com

     

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth