Creative Leadership

Stop Giving Advice to People Who Don’t Ask For It

I’m embarrassed to say that it’s taken me most of my life to understand this, but it’s true. Except in very rare situations, giving people advice who haven’t asked for it just doesn’t work – no matter how noble your intentions. In fact, they will often be offended and your very relationship can be damaged. When my daughters were growing up I would see them making a mistake and offer my advice. Did they take it? Rarely. More often than not, they were offended. My wife Kathleen was the same way. Unsolicited advice almost always seems judgmental and is therefore unappreciated. So after a lot of fiery darts being flung my way, here’s a few things I’ve learned:

1. If they don’t ask, don’t give advice. Simple as that.

2. This applies to just about everything, short of stopping people from stepping in front of a moving car.

3. It doesn’t mean people are ungrateful, but people are often embarrassed when reminded of their mistakes or shortcomings. In my experience, most people actually need to see the end result of their wrong thinking. When that happens, it makes a much more powerful and lasting impression.

4. Your advice will be more effective when they’ve seen their mistake, and then come to you.

5. This doesn’t mean you abandon anyone. It simply means you watch, track their progress, keep quiet, and then be ready to answer their questions in a positive, inspiring way.

The impact of your advice isn’t just based on the insight, it’s also based on the timing.

Anyone else found that to be true?

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  1. The older I have gotten the less I have given unsolicited advice. 🙂 I used to just blurt it out whether they wanted it or not. Then I realized I was actually hurting things more than helping. Good words Phil.

  2. Advice given in the form of leading questions can help them come to the conclusion for themselves rather than ‘being told.’ Advice is better heeded when it’s “their idea.” lol.

  3. Wise words of advice here. At times I still fail at this very thing… I think it’s the hair-stylist-behind-the-chair still left in me. Your article has encouraged me to keep working on this. Thank you for the good advice =)

      1. So right, listening is key. Nobody wants to be held hostage in a chair while a stylist blabbers on with advice or otherwise. That’s called torture!

  4. Phil, I know you are a man of faith and for this reason I will like to ask you a question. As a counselor and pastor I always too in consideration a Scripture that’s familiar to you, I am sure.
    Ezekiel 33:8 When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.

    According to your understanding, I suppose to say nothing, do nothing even seeing a lot of people around me heading to disaster – marriage, parenting, finances, lifestyle and also spirituality… Where is the line in my case as professional counselor & pastor?
    Thank you

    1. In the pulpit, preach away. Create media programs, and write books. But people will rarely listen to your advice unless they’re interested to begin with. It’s like a guy I saw on the street yesterday carrying a sign with John 3:16 and shouting at passersby’s to “REPENT!” They weren’t listening because they weren’t interested. How much better would it have been to develop a relationship with some people, listen to their needs, and be there with the Gospel when they were curious?
      It’s a good question Ovidiu, and one that we should always be asking…

  5. Gotta disagree with you on this one, brother. Just because they didn’t jump up and down screaming that the advice was the best ever, doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate it, won’t heed it, or won’t learn from it.

    In fact, your daughters learned a whole lot more than they let on. My guess is that there are a lot of ways that they’re just like you.

    And that doesn’t all come from genetics.

    1. We all hope that’s true Andrew, and we should live a life worth imitating. But when it comes to day to day advice, I’m waiting until they ask…
      Thanks for responding!

      1. Absolutely agree Phil. I have actually ruined relationships by giving unsolicited advice. Thankfully, I have seen the error of my ways. Nobody likes someone who comes across as a “know it all”, even if the advice that you have to give is first rate and possibly in your scope of knowledge or expertise – people still likely don’t want it. I have learned to bite my lip and listen…

    2. sometimes people just want to vent and be heard— NOT someone to solve their situation.. Just LISTEN… goes a long way

  6. Proverbs 9:7-8 NKJV
    He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, And he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. …

    Based on God’s wisdom you need to determine the condition of the hearer…wise or foolish

    Jesus said himself in Matt 7:6 “……don’t cast your pearls before swine lest they trample them under their feet….”

  7. I had to learn the hard way. I consider myself to be wise and intelligent and I am always try to suck in all the information I could get my hands on and teach it to the people I know. But it seems like no one appreciates my knowledge and I tent to sound mean judgmental when I know I am right. I n my head I was trying to protect the person I was giving the advice to but in the end it sounded like I didn’t believe in them. I think because I am away too logic I have to realize that not everyone will see what see and think how I think. The worst part is those people are the ones who come running to me crying their eyes out because they didn’t listen. Even tho it will be very hard I will have to learn to just keep my mouth shut and let them fail… I will just keep my wisdom to myself…. Thanks Dr. Phil I am a huge fan of you 🙂

    1. It’s also a good idea to not walk around acting like a prideful know-it-all. Develop a relationship with people and SERVE them first, and they will THEN ask for your wisdom and advice.

  8. Couldn’t agree more, the stark reality struck me just this morning when talking to a friend of mine. Never really thought that it could have a negative effect as well. I’m open to advises and if need be, change my ways n thoughts to what’s best in the situation. As I read somewhere, it’s very difficult to live among people you love and not offer them advice when you know they need it. I’ve also learnt my lesson today!

  9. I agree with everything except the timing being right. There is never a right time for some people, who move on from one mistake to another and people are forced to painfully watch their ship sink.

  10. Totally agree. It is annoying and often feels like the ‘advice giver’ is not even really listening just jumping in and spouting off. On the other hand, it is hard to sit back and not give advice sometimes.

  11. Another lesson I’ve learned: Perhaps the person isn’t offended because they are embarrassed, but rather because your advice is something that they’ve either heard a million times before, or something that they themselves have tried and they know it does not work. I’ve found that often times, giving unsolicited advice requires a number of assumptions on your part, and if those assumptions are wrong, that person may be offended not only because your advice is wrong, but also your assumption.

    1. True, but if a person doesnt say they have thought of something or tried something and simply vents about the problem over and over again, then the other person only has that information to go by. They are not assuming anything. they are responding to the person using the information that person has given to them.
      As I said previously, asking the right questions is a good way to shift the persons thinking and ergo emotional state but It also helps to prevent any assumptions being made by the other. Ie: ‘sounds like this is really upsetting you. That must be difficult. (Then the question) How on earth have you dealt with it all so far?’ or ‘Thus sounds like a real problem, I can see how much its effecting you. ‘Is there anything you think you might be able to do about it?’ Advice might be better recieved if solutions become the topic of conversation and both people are involved, rather than the problem being the only thing spoken about by one and the other then dishing out advice.
      Solution based thinking once established opens up the other person to advice more readily, or better still opens them up to reaching their own conclusions (even if not immediately)
      Id do this when the problem seems to be a constant ball and chain to my friend but they take no action, and as a result either they or others are suffering harm.
      With advice, Its about how important it is, the timing and the way you go about getting the information across. Unsolicited advice is not a bad thing to always avoid!! Sometimes it is the right thing to do. Just make sure it is effective or it really will make no difference and probably will cause the wrong reaction.

      1. In an instance where the person is only using information that has been presented to them, then they are not making assumptions. This instance would not be what I’m referring to. Your suggestions are good ones, and I wish that were always how it was. However, the situations I’m talking about are when people skip asking questions and go straight for advice based on unfounded assumptions. If anyone wants to give advice, asking questions first is the way to go, imho. That way, it’s more of a conversation and less of a one-way spewing of unwanted input.

        1. Oh I see. Then I can only say that i agree with your view that such advice is unlikely to be recieved warmly and will most likely be instantly rejected. I too would suggest avoiding it simply because it us unlikely to be effective or helpful to the person you are giving it to. Not only that, they will be less likely to ever consider it again in the future. You end up limiting the choices of action they feel they have rather opening them up to more. That is not the only risk, You are right, there are so many reasons to avoid that sort of advice giving.

  12. From the receiving end viewpoint: What the heck! “Your advice will be more effective when they’ve seen their mistake, and then come to you.”

    It may not be a mistake, it may be their choice to do or not do something. People can think for themselves and assuming you know better than they do is quite the assumption to make.

    1. It’s not “assuming you know better than they do,” it’s just an offer to help, based on someone’s experience. After all, why bang your head against the wall, when you could learn from someone who’s already done it?

      1. I totally agree. When I vent its usually because I have an unresolved issue I need help with. It may be I want someone to just listen. It may be I kniw what to do but dont want to have to do it. Whichever, when my friend gives me advice ( asked for or not) I feel listened to and I realise they care enough to think about a solution. I came to them first and vented. In return for them listening, I give them the respect to hear anything they have to say!! I dont take offence!! I feel better. If ive know what they say is yrue ill just say ‘ yeah, i know!’ if its something ive not thought of ill statw that and think about it. If ive tried it ill say that too. If i want really want to end the topic, ill just say ‘ thanks i needed that, anyway how are you?’ if you imagine all your friends are secretly assuming they are better than you then id suggest it may be you who has the problem. Imagining kindness is belittling is a strange idea if you tryst that person enough to express personal problems to!!
        Or here is an idea, try saying before hand you need to vent and are not looking for answers so your friend doesnt need to read your mind. Try understanding seeing someone in distress is hard and many people want to help by coming up with ways that distress may end. After all, if you know how to solve the problem and need no advice…why the heck are you venting or expressing your problem!!! Solve it and discuss that instead!!! Honestly. Its fine once in a while but some people have the same problem for a veeery long time without making an effort to gelp themselves. Given that, is it a wonder others begin to try and do it for them.
        I rarely hear. ‘I have tried this’ or ‘im not ready to do what i know i have to’ or ‘at the moment im too angry to do anything about it’
        My advice is always the same…’only you can deal with this and you are best situated to know how to, but while you wait not much will change’ venting has a place in the short term and i get that but its not a long term solution to any problem. By allowing a person to continue on and on with it without raking action or asking for help, you ultimately enable them to believe it is a good way to deal with problems. At some point one has to let a friend know they are hurting themselves. Its a question if timing. Communication is a two way street and while sometimes a silent understanding is appropriate to support a friend, there are times when this simply becomes positive reinforcement for damaging behaviour. Now that would be fine but not when you are expected to be part of it as well as listen to and feel frustrated by it. Friendship works both ways. No one has to take advice but a friend could simply thank another friend for offering it.
        I find a giid way to do so is to ask the correct questions rather than provide the answers directly. The result is the same…a person focuses on solutions rather than the problem and can find a solution that works best for them. Even uf its not immediately, it does help provide a shift in thinking.
        Then my friend can feel empowered, happier and less frustrated and we can get back to enjoying happier thoughts and situations together. People do have thinking errors and negative patterns they dont know they have and which limit them and a good friend wants help open them up to possibilities they may not think they are capable of.
        Is that truly so wrong? If so I am indeed a terrible person. Im not perfect and i vent too but I never reject my friends attempts to be kind, even when I know the advice is not for me. Certainly I dont take offence!!

  13. but hang on: if a person is making a fundamental error in thinking or engaging in self destructive thoughts and behaviours to sit passively by or to show support for this may reinforce their thinking. That is almost enabling. If they continually ask you to accept having to put their problems needs value view points feelings and words without judgement time and time again before thier own, then they need to recognise that they should do the same.
    If a person engages another without permission by talking directly to another, then why should the othet ask permission to speak as freely. Should people not show the same degree of understanding they expect from others.
    If my mate has a headache and i suggest a remedy that might work they would try it. Why is heartache wiewed differently?
    What about if you really are aware of something they are not. I dont give advice. I offer my experience to add to thier own. They could just thank a person for the info and be thankful someone took the time or cared enough to try and be helpful. Its not necesaary to act on it.
    People in a situation are not objective. An outsider is. If they cannot value a persons attention, care, effort or contribution to an interaction they should not try to engage a person in it.
    I do not wish to have the same value and input as a nodding dog or ill simply start feeling like one.
    I dont mind my advice not being taken the complainee…i just want to be heard too! I didnt ask them to tell me their woes but they did so by the same token im not going to ask permission to express my views and feelings about it.
    Different if they ask to vent and you agree but most dont. Friendship respect support respect while relating are a two way streets.
    People may not be so offended if they understood this.
    When a person is in shock or just suffered something difficult. I can offer that non judgemental shoulder. But given time and being asked to continue to react in this way over and over agaiin is unrealistic, unhelpful and selfish.
    Its odd that the complainee is afforded such consideration and the person they have pulled into it afforded none. Both parties should be aware of how they are interacting and what might help. Eg. How about consider who and how the other reacted previously and if you dont like it dont engage them the matter in future.
    If people ask for my attention understanding and help they cannot pick and choose the form it takes and should be open to the my contribution.
    If everyone evenrually realuses the destruction in their behaviour then its no big deal to wait but some peopke never do and wont consider an option if they have no way of knowing even exists!!
    Surely 3rd party involvement brings with it 3rd party perspective. I can uderstand and sympathise only so far as i can relate my experience of a situation to thiers. I can accept differences in anothers experience of it. But if they have no experience or idea of helping themselves and i have then why nit simply share that in the spirit of sharing the problem. Sharing means just that. It means each person feeling heard and valued and cared for. Not just one. Maybe that is why serial complainers complain so much…..because they expect more from others (in terms of consideration) than they think others should expect from them.
    What people want and need to hear are entirely different things. I dont wish to impose unsolicited advise on a oerson and i dont want to be put in that position through unsolicited repeated venting.
    Dont judge (or not) one persons behaviour without applying equal judgement (or not) all round.

  14. People do not value free advice no matter whatever good intentions you have. They are sometime willing to pay a huge cost for the advice form a person who might be well known in the industry or consultant but if the same advice comes from a Junior staff or some person who do not hold the high post, management is not even ready to listen what person might want to convey. After a several incidents happened with me personally and professionally . I strongly feel that “Stop Giving Advice to People Who Don’t Ask For It” infect start charging for the advice then only they will value it 🙂

  15. Absolutely…concur with your thoughts. I suggested a friend to take an iron tablet called dexorange which I take and it boosts my energy levels positively. He has a habit of checking with ten other people about everything he asks me advises on. And he does the same with the others…That aside, today he calls to say the tablet was giving him negative side effects and i knew by the tone of his voice how that came about. So I politely apologised for suggesting the medicine and told him that henceforth he follow a professionals advise or those advises that he actually followed. I could have been more helping but I felt hurt by his behavior of all the time wasting my time and energy.

  16. In my situation, once in a blue moon I have to call upon my boys father to take the them for the weekend. The oldest is 12 and he would rather make alternate arrangments to stay with friends, but his 7 year old brother still wants to hang out with dad. How can I tell their dad what frame of mind they’re in without getting attitude back?

  17. It’s true and I agree. However. I also believe if the person is close enough to you, one could also say: I have a suggestion that I would like to share with you.. Would you like it? When someone does this, you are simply stating that you have an idea and if the other person complies with it, it means that they accept it..and that leaves you free of anything.

  18. I don’t mind good advice, but if someone gives bad unsolicited advice, it’s kinda annoying. Sometimes I tell them I don’t want their advice. When people CONTINUE to give unsolicited advice WHEN I TOLD THEM I DIDN’T WANT IT it should be super obvious I don’t want it. So why don’t they leave me alone!?!? By that point I yell at them and they deserve it. They need to keep their BS to themselves.

  19. People usually don’t get offended by the fact that you’d offer advice… The truth is that most unsolicited advice is abrasive, intrusive and ignorant (even when well meaning)… the recepient feels violated by this obtuse intrusion and becomes logically defensive… If you think you need to relay a message then speak of your own experiences in a way that they could relate to. And for f… sakes don’t make a stupid assumption that you have enough information to actually offer advice. If you aren’t asked for one likelihood is you haven’t been given access to information and likelihood is that they don’t want to give you more information…

  20. First let me say I am a Genius. Used to gather advice on things that have worked for people, some of it life saving. However one day picked up a book and one statement woke me up to what some people are. The statement being “Light travels faster than sound” would see someone coming towards me. It was only when they stopped to talk that I realized how dumb they where. So no free advice for these dummies, they never pay much attention anyway.

  21. To be frank, unsolicited advice is often annoying. You have no idea if the person is in position to receive your offering. They could be distracted, disinterested or the incorrect party. You know how many times I sit and listen politely while someone offers advice? Do you know how much time is wasted listening to something that I already know? Incalculable, inordinate amounts of time. The worst part is that it often comes with judgement attached….judgement without a full understanding of the situation OR a full understanding of your knowledge of the situation.


  22. I find this all over fb. People joining mlm groups and trying to give out unsolicited advice to anyone they can, hoping they can bait a few suckers in the process.

    I read one from a beachbody coach, saying that people should eat organic. To see the expense not as a cost, but an investment in you and your families health.

    This kind of stuff jerks my chain because it sounds very arrogant. This does nothing but annoy people, because everyone knows organic is expensive – many people can’t afford strawberries at $7/lb. For her to to make a statement like that is belittling and serves as nothing other than to make them feel like trash.

    1. I think a lot of it is in the attitude. It’s one thing to talk about YOUR experience and how it’s helped YOU. But when you start lecturing people, it really gets on people’s nerves… 🙂

  23. id comment in detail, but thats voicing my opinion and an opinion can be taken as advice :). But thanks for the article and insight.

    1. Hmm, sounds like a plan, I give my wife advice constantly, it never takes until a “professional” tells her the exact same thing.

    2. There is story about couple who wanted to give dog for free but nobody responded. They asked psychiatrist about it and dude says: “Offer that puppie for money” and guess what happened.. They sell doggie first day.

  24. Another element is this: To overinsert yourself into someone else’s decision making often implies that you know better than they do about the choices they are to make, whether this intention is made with love or not. It may feel like a violation of boundaries or respect.

    It is often a violation in boundaries when one thinks they have someone else’s answers or know better than they do about how they are to move within their own lives. I feel that it’s important to remember that offering to help is to know that you are a support, and never a decision maker for someone else who is not in your direct care (child, caretaker, or someone in danger).

    It’s usually effective to Either wait for someone to Ask for help, or ask your loved one or friend if you CAN offer help or advice. If they say no, respect that, and support or love from afar. And if they do, cool! The only person you ate in charge of is you and those in your direct care. Either way, insightful article.

  25. The writer sticks to examples where people have made mistakes but don’t want advice about it. What about people who give advice to you that they would never give other people? Here is an example: I am a musician and composer. I let a friend or an acquaintance hear a song of mine – people who are not musicians, by the way – maybe something I’ve just finished recording, and often they will comment. “It’s good. I would make the beginning shorter and sing a bit louder.” Now, if they were able to go backstage after sitting in the audience at a performance of their favorite musical artist, they would never, ever, offer up such comments. “Wow, what a great show! I’m such a fan! But with “Hey Jude” I would make it a bit snappier and not so sad, you know.” What is with people who do this to me? Just so you know, my music is – without using a simple and obviously biased value judgement here – shall we say, very competently performed and recorded. It’s not like I’m twelve and I just picked up a trumpet or a guitar and am giving it my all. I know what I’m doing. But people time and again come out with these comments! And it’s not like I said “Hey, check out my new song, I need your advice and some help with it,” you know? It’s crazy. When these people make these perfectly innocent, helpy-type comments, they don’t realize they are committing a real faux pas. What many people fail to understand is that artists may be “interested” in how people respond to their work, but that does not mean they are short-order cooks asking for your order so they can whip up the song YOU like or the painting YOU want to see. So I agree with the author: unless asked, just don’t offer your helpful advice. You can certainly offer your impressions. You can say “I couldn’t hear this or that instrument very well, was it meant to be like that?” (because actually, yes, oftentimes an artist does something on purpose that might be unusual or unexpected that they know full well will have a certain affect on people but that might just be the point!) or “I liked the beginning more than the ending,” and any artist should be able to deal positively with that, but to say basically that “it would be better if you did this instead of that” you are just being a fool.

    1. That’s an excellent example and a good word of caution Mark. I’m especially careful when someone asks my opinion, and I know NOTHING about the subject. I’m not about to tell a brain surgeon my “comments” on his recent surgery, and it should be true of any area where you’re not an expert. Also – from the other side, I would tell musicians like you to learn to discount inappropriate opinions from people. Take it with a grain of salt, and your life will have much less stress! Thanks for sharing!

  26. I used to feel stupid when people give me unsolicited advice, especially done in hindsight. Well, I’m not stupid, I’m only human. These people need to realize it.

  27. Excellent advice, Phil. The only exception IMO would be if you’ve developed a relationship with someone to the point where they know you and trust you and value your input. For example, I’ve discussed philosophy and creationism with a lot of people over the years. I drifted into the worldview of a theistic evolutionist. I believed that God used evolution to create man. So my best friend who I would trust with my life played some videos for me on Intelligent Design. It totally transformed my thinking, and I now totally reject evolution as pseudoscience. If anybody else had tried to correct my thinking I probably would have resented it. It’s not that I’m a bad person. It’s just human nature. Nobody wants to admit that they’re wrong, especially on things like religion and politics. In every other situation where I’ve changed my views, it’s because it was my idea (or so I thought) and I was asking questions.

  28. One thing I notice whenever people discuss this topic of why you should refrain from giving unsolicited advice – the sole message is always angled towards taking the high road and graciously understanding that most people are not in a position to accept your unparalleled words of wisdom. No one ever seems to consider that maybe, just maybe, you don’t actually know what is best for someone else. Maybe your advice doesn’t take into consideration the infinite number of variables that the other person is aware of and you are not. Maybe your perspective is skewed and your advice is just an attempt to validate your own beliefs. It’s hard enough to truly know yourself and make the right choices in your own life – let’s master that before we start telling other people what to do.

  29. Mr. Cooke, your article is excellent but I never asked you to give me advice by writing an article on giving advice!😉pete

  30. That’s sounds like he wants people to avoid that tactic. People can read between the lines and realize you are judging them incapable of leading their own life.
    I’m thinking you probably say,”I was only trying to help” when people are upset with your meddling.

  31. Same here. It’s hard, especially when you see someone doing something that will lead to problems or harm… but I am getting better at at with age as well.

  32. You and I sound like we have had the same experiences! Like you, I have a nearly rabid interest in the world and I love to learn about everything that I can. I think that I can also come across as judgmental or a “know it all”. While I certainly do not know it all… I do know a lot (you never want to play Trivial Pursuit with me… LOL!). I too am learning to bite my lip and keep my knowledge to myself UNLESS I am specifically asked for it, and even then, I will only answer that one specific question without providing more information.

    This is HARD, especially when you can clearly see that someone is about to do something that will result in big problems or even harm. I too will keep my information and wisdom to myself.

  33. Only problem with that philosophy is that usually, they don’t ask no matter the amount of servitude or setting a great example. Success always leaved footprints. Most people are terrible trackers.

  34. Bravo!! But here’s the question. WHY are people so very resistant to learning from other people’s mistakes or successes? WHY can’t many people seem to even learn from their own mistakes and successes?

  35. “If they cannot value a persons attention, care, effort or contribution to an interaction they should not try to engage a person in it.”

    I love this statement!!

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