Chronic Communication at Home: How to Cope With—and Avoid Giving—Unwanted Advice

Learn how to put sensible limits on sensitive topics.

Chronic Communication at Home: How to Cope With—and Avoid Giving—Unwanted Advice

By Dr GaryCA Published at July 10 Views 457 Comments 1

Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

Nick’s wife, Marisol, asked what seemed like a pretty simple question. “What do you think we should bring for the family reunion?”

The answer Nick gave was not so simple. He expressed his concern about his wife’s diet, and advised her of the importance of eating a balanced diet on the hot, sunny reunion day.

Nick went on to express concern that Marisol was taking on too much, and he explained the importance of getting enough rest.

He also mentioned some family members that he felt often monopolized Marisol’s time at family events, and he cautioned her to set limits with people who create stress.

As he talked, Marisol couldn’t help but wonder what about her question had caused all this advice-giving, not that Nick hasn’t done this in the past. But wow, all this over a dish to pass around at the reunion?

Finally, Marisol interrupted him. “Would it have been easier if I had given you a choice between baked beans or potato salad?” She smiled as she said this.

When a simple question leads to unwanted advice

Nick realized at that moment that what could have been a simple answer had turned into a long lecture. “Wow,” he answered. “I kind of gave you a little more answer than you expected, didn’t I?”

“You could say that,” Marisol answered. And then they shared a laugh.

However, Marisol has been down this road before with Nick and other well-meaning people who feel it is up to them to make sure she manages her chronic condition according to the standards they have set for her. And when this happens, the mood isn’t always so light.

Nobody likes unwanted advice. It can leave you feeling like you’re being talked down to, as if you can’t manage your own life. It can make you feel exposed, judged, blamed. And it’s just downright annoying.

If unwanted advice comes your way:

Consider the motive. There is a difference between giving advice out of a desire to show off or put another person in their place and advice that is coming from a place of love. Depending on your relationship with the advice-giver, it may be relatively easy to discern the advice-giver’s motive. If you know it’s coming out of love, can you exercise a little extra patience?

Choose whether you want to listen or not. You’re in control here. Don’t assume you have to sit through a lecture just because one is being directed toward you. Before you crawl out of your skin, get ready to take control of the situation.

Politely—but directly—state your position. Again, bear in mind the advice-giver’s motivation. This will help you to choose what to say and how firmly to say it. The basic message here is something to the effect of, “Thanks for the advice, but I am doing just fine on my own.” You can put your own spin on it depending on the source of the advice, e.g., “I know you love me and I really appreciate it.”

And if you tend to go heavy on the advice-giving:

If you haven’t been asked for advice, don’t give it. It’s as simple as that.

If you have been asked, address the question. It starts with listening to the question that has been asked, considering your response, and then providing a direct answer—no more and no less than what was asked for. Sure, you may have to bite your tongue not to launch into a laundry list of advice that you’ve been waiting to give. But hold back.

Offer advice (or further advice), but give the recipient a choice. Having said that, if you do have some advice, ask the other person if they are interested in hearing it. Start by being specific about what you want to address: “I’ve been thinking about ____ and I’m wondering if you would like a couple of suggestions.” And then wait for their response. Be okay with, “No thanks.”

Remember: “If you see something, say something” applies only up to a point. The person the advice is directed toward has to be receptive to the message. If they haven’t invited you to offer advice, chances are it will fall on deaf ears—and potentially drive a wedge in your relationship.

We honor other people by giving them the freedom to live their lives as they have chosen. Admittedly, that’s not always easy to sit with. Stand by. Be kind. Watch for teachable moments when your advice is not only welcome, but requested.

Share your tips for dealing with unwanted advice by commenting below.

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