Saturday, January 12, 2013

Can You Stop Telling Me What to Do?

Today my student asked

"What should I do when a well-meaning friend starts lecturing me about how to fix my life?"

In a previous blog, I wrote about how to stop yourself from giving advice when you really really want to.  But people, including me, are so full of their own advice that we end up barraging people who DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT.
Even when someone like my student seems to be asking for advice, I'm not sure they are interested in my answer.

But, since you asked, I will answer anyway.
  1. Interrupt the advising person as soon as you can and say:  "Just a minute.  Wait!  Before you continue, I have to tell you this:  I like you.  You care about me and you're a good person.  But at the moment, I'm not ready to hear your kind and well-meaning advice."
  2. Memorize the above statement if necessary.  You can also print the words out and carry them in your pocket.  When the offending person starts to give you unwanted advice, pull out the paper.
  3. Of course, someone who is on an advice-giving bingewill not believe that their advice is not wanted.  So you will have to try again.  This time, begin with their name:  "Mom [or whoever], just a minute.  Before you continue, I have to tell you this:  You know, I love you.  I can see that you're worried about me.  But at the moment, I'm not ready to hear your kind and well-meaning advice."
  4. If another communication is necessary, this time, stand up (if you are not already standing), look the person in the eye, and say:  "At the moment, I'm not ready to hear your advice.  But if you like, you can ask me about this topic next (week, month, year).  OK?"
Of course, if the person is supporting you financially, you should add: 
"If your financial support is contingent on me listening to your advice, please let me know." 

(Also, find out if financial support is contingent on you following their advice.)

If the person is your boss, supervisor, advisor, mentor, or spouse, it would be very wise to get over yourself and show them you have heard and understood their message.  You do that by saying,
  • "I see.  I hear that you would like me to that it?"
  • "Do I understand you correctly?"
  • "That's a good point.  Let me think about it."  or
  • "That's a good point.  Do you want to hear what I think?"
If possible, schedule a conversation in which ideas can be taken seriously and shared.

Roger that?


  1. A international family therapist has just given me advice (at my request) on this topic. She would respond to my student as follows: "No one likes getting advice. It must bug the hell out of you. I would listen carefully and thank the person very much. Then I'd say, 'I'll take your advice under consideration.' Then I'd do whatever the hell I want."

  2. Including myself. When one has learned through the school of hard knocks it is tempting to share that knowledge, don't you think? An interesting idea in today's post.


  3. [4/3/2013 11:51:19 PM] I tried out your blog advice on responding to unwanted advice (or pre-empting it) and it worked out very well.