While writing at Starbucks one day, I overhead some intimate details of a conversation less than a foot from me thanks to how crammed the tables are at this particular location. Two girls in their mid-20s in a conversation about one of the girl’s guy problems.
The girl giving the advice? Acting as though she knew it all about every single man that ever existed? That was me once. I even texted my closest girlfriend and told her, “OMG (haha those acronyms return) this is me years ago when I thought I knew the answer to everything!” I wanted to tell the girl to stop talking and just listen to her friend. Just listen. If her friend asks “what should I do?” or “do you have any advice?” or “what are your thoughts?” then okay. UNLOAD. Tell her all your thoughts and opinions freely. But if she doesn’t ask for any of that, don’t for once think that’s your place to insert all the solutions as though you’re the one that’s going to solve her personal problems.
I never thought much about unsolicited advice until I became a mom. And as most moms know, the unsolicited advice comes out EVERYWHERE. It bleeds through the walls, through the ceiling, through the floor, creating its own little ocean that you can drown in.
From being someone who once was the reigning queen of unsolicited advice, I know that it comes from a place of good. Someone really thinks they’re doing what they can to help their friend. It’s not to be snotty or to come from this place like their life is figured out and they have all the answers. As humans, we just want to SOLVE things. You have a problem? Great, let me offer a solution. Let’s get this problem fixed and have one less weight in the world.
But of course it’s not always that easy.
And I’ve become more sensitive to it over the past few years.
This is my definition of unsolicited advice: when someone is just sharing what’s happening in their life to give an update the listener asked about or maybe even just to unload some of the weight they’re carrying; but then the listener launches into recommendations for all the things they should to combat the issues.
As a mom, this is why it’s draining: I have researched hours upon hours, consulted with nurses and doctors, asked other moms, tried switching out whatever variables are involved to reduce whatever problem exists. I have spent HOURS trying to solve it and frankly, get to the point where I accept it as is (if it’s a minor issue that’s not hurting anyone outside of driving me nuts). So when someone asks me, “Have you tried this? Or that? Or this?” when I didn’t ask for advice, I tense. It’s frustrating. Because yes, I’ve tried all those things. Yes, it worked for your kids and that’s great, but my kids are totally different than yours. Our conditions are different. Our environment is wholly different than yours. So for you to think those solutions will surely work is infuriating when something that has rattled me emotionally and mentally is reduced to basic suggestions.
I don’t mind if someone suddenly starts talking about their related issue and simply shares what they’ve done. That’s not unsolicited advice; that’s them talking about their own experience, and it’s always welcomed. As long as it’s not backed with “You should try that” or “I’m sure it’ll work for you” then we’re golden.
I’m really not bashing anyone who gives it, because I know where their heart is coming from and that means the world to me. But my perspective has changed on giving advice, and that’s what I’m sharing more than anything else. We don’t have to try to fix people’s problems. Just listening is good enough. I know 98% of the time that’s all I want when I share my problems- someone to lend an ear and say they HEAR me. It sounds so much simpler than giving that life-altering, problem-solving advice. Maybe that’s why- listening doesn’t feel like it’s “enough.” But it IS. Listening with an empathetic ear is all most people are really searching for even if they don’t come right out and say it.
I’m still guilty of giving unsolicited advice because- as I mentioned before, it’s in our nature to want to fix things. But I’m becoming more aware of the importance of just stepping back, listening, and being a good friend who cares and listens. And if I have a similar experience, I may share it, but just because I can relate, and not because I think you should do things exactly as I did.
Just one of many ways this mom life has changed me.