The Burden of Unsolicited Advice

The burden of unsolicited advice by Michael Whitehouse

Unsolicited advice is a bit like performing surgery in the dark. While well intentioned, it is unlikely to hit the mark, and it creates a burden on the person who receives it.

This is different from general advice. If I make a general post with an idea or tips, then you are free to choose to embrace it or not. It is up to you to read it or just keep scrolling. On the other hand, if you comment or private message you, then I have created a burden and even obligation.

In his excellent book Win or Die, Bruce Craven says, “Our selections of both advisors and coaches will depend on our circumstances and opportunities, but if our coaches and advisors can’t listen, they can’t guide us.”

I have a great deal of experience and wisdom to share, earned through hard experience. I often see people who could benefit from it, which is why I share it often through general advice which they may choose to embrace, but I do my best to avoid giving personal unsolicited advice.

If I am specifically asked for advice, I will generally try to ask a few questions first to ensure that my advice is appropriate. My preference based on both experience and training, however, is to ask a series of questions that lead the individual to come to the conclusion my advice would suggest on their own.

That is what coaching is. Coaches don’t provide answers. Coaches ask questions to help you get to your own answers.

Recently, a professional that I respect greatly gave me the advice that I should repurpose my content. They suggested that when I record my Morning Motivation podcasts, I should also record video at the same time, then I should use a transcription service to transcribe the audio into text and use that for blog articles and possibly even a book.

Generally this sounds like good advice. Repurposing content is generally a good idea. The problem is that it is not a good idea for me. The music in Morning Motivation is added during the recording so the adaptation to video would be complex and time consuming. Transcription generates a document full of errors that will take some time to fix. It would take 15 minutes to repurpose an episode into an article, when I could just listen to the episode and write an article on the same topic in 10 minutes.

Of course, they did not know any of these factors which made the advice poor for me. They did not know because they did not ask.

No big deal. If I don’t like the advice, I should just not take it, right?

Not so simple. First, as soon as the advice is given, especially from a person whom I esteem, there is an obligation to take it seriously. In the past, I have been told I am arrogant for not considering the advice of those more experienced than myself. I don’t want to be arrogant, so I take time to think about it.

Content generation is not an area in which I have a problem. Once I have set aside the time, I can make content prolifically, I think. Well, I thought so. Maybe not? I had though I did, but now this has me thinking about it.

So the mere consideration of this advice which offers a solution to a problem that I do not have causes me to open up an area that was otherwise closed and settled. Something which had seemed certain must now be considered uncertain.

After some modest amount of mental energy, I determine that what I am doing is, in fact, working and that the advice is not appropriate to me. Probably. Unless maybe it is. No, I think I’m sure it’s not. I think. Certainty has become doubt.

Now, I still have a social obligation. The person offering the advice has given me the gift of their time and attention, which I am now socially obligated to return by appreciating the advice and explaining the reason why I cannot implement it. If I’m lucky, it ends there, and if not the advice giver will argue why their advice is good.

The end result of this unsolicited advice is wasted energy, possible acrimony, and being less confident in a course of action that was already working.

I have a friend who posts every week or so reminding her friends that she is not interested in unsolicited advice about her health, her weight, her mental health, or her lifestyle. I completely understand why. Every piece of unsolicited advice creates a burden.

I can also understand why some people comment on posts of general advice with vigorous opposition. They are not objecting to the idea in general. They are seeing the post on their personal feed and thinking it is personally for them, and not for the thousands of other people who will see the same post.

So, how should you give advice to someone who needs it but hasn’t asked you.

Simple answer: you shouldn’t.

But perhaps it is a friend or loved one and you feel it is important to point something out or share with them. In that case, you should ask no less than three questions prior to making any statements.
Ask enough questions to test all of your assumptions about the situation.
Ask enough questions so they feel that you actually care about helping them and that you’re not just stroking your own ego.
Ask enough questions that your advice is actually helpful and not a burden.
Only then, when you have fully engaged, should you ask if they would be interested in your advice. Only if they say yes should you offer it. If you don’t have time to ask the questions, keep your advice to yourself.

If you are interested in learning more about how the coaching process uses effective questioning to guide you to your own answers, visit to set up a complimentary coaching session and experience it for yourself.

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