Most people do not want unsolicited advice. However, many people tend to unconsciously default to advice giving or problem solving. This is particularly true when attempting to provide support. Nevertheless, we know that unsolicited help is often unhelpful and frustrating, particularly when we have already tried many of the reasonable options for solving our problems. The same holds true for problem-solving.
Examples of unsolicited advice include:
“What work for me is when …”
“If I were you I would …”
“Don’t accept that job it will make you miserable …”
Examples of problem solving include:
“Have you tried …”
“Why don’t you …”
“Maybe it would help if you …”
Think of a time when you felt overwhelmed or distressed about a problem or situation. Take a moment to think about how others responded. How did you experience their responses? What do you think you needed most at the time?
On the other hand, if you find yourself giving advice to others, it might be worthwhile to pause and think about why this is the case. How else might you respond?
Unsolicited advice and problem solving is also often what we do when we are feeling uncomfortable. In such scenarios it can be difficult to tolerate our own distress in the face of helplessness or pain.
Rather than giving advice or problem solving, most people simply want to be heard and supported. This is where empathy plays a crucial role. Consider how you can simply be present and connect with how that person might feel.
In addition to listening and being supportive. You can also ask, “what can I do to support you?” If you do have a helpful thought to share, it can be useful to ask first, “do you want me to offer any feedback or help you think through solutions.” Nevertheless, simply being present and listening, validating, and paraphrasing what you hear, while making supporting statements of care is often the most powerful way to help.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist, Clinical Psychologist
PSYPACT Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) Map of Participating States
Email to schedule an appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org
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