"Our unsolicited advice often comes across as a lack of confidence in their judgment, knowledge, or ability to learn."
~ Bill Crawford

“Our unsolicited advice often comes across as a lack of confidence in their judgment, knowledge, or ability to learn. ~ Bill Crawford

Why People Reject Our Advice

Have you ever tried to give advice to someone, only to have them roll their eyes or start defending the very behavior that you are trying to get them to change? Most of us have had this experience, and it can certainly trigger frustration and confusion on our part because, “hey, we’re only trying to help,” right? Unfortunately this frustration on our part can then trigger more resistance in them, and any attempt to impart helpful information is lost in a cycle of resentment and annoyance.

If you would like to avoid this problem in the future, it will be important to understand why our attempt to be helpful is met with rejection and resistance. The reason is that advice, especially when it is unsolicited, often comes across as our lack of confidence in their judgment, knowledge, or ability to learn.

I mean, think about it. If we thought they knew it, or had confidence in their ability to learn on their own, we wouldn’t need to tell them, right? Further, those who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy know that this resistance on their part is a result of their middle brain (their limbic system) interpreting our unsolicited advice as insulting, or even a threat of some sort (a threat to their self-esteem, etc.). As a result, they are thrown deeper into the resistant brain (the lower brain, or brainstem) where their resentment, anger, stress, and/or frustration keeps them from hearing anything we say as valuable.

So, what do we do, wait until we are asked for our help? Well, sometimes yes. As a psychologist, I try never to give advice unless I’m asked because of how it can come across. However, there are times when waiting just isn’t possible, and in these cases, we need to be skillful in how we offer our advice so that it doesn’t meet so much resistance.

One way to do that (especially when we are dealing with teenagers) is to preface the “advice” with, “Hey, there is something that I want to share with you…would you stop me if you already know this?” This is potentially more successful because they hear us holding out at least the possibility that they do indeed know what we want to tell them. Then, if they do say that, yes, they know it, we can ask them to tell us what they know so that we can build on that knowledge in a way that feels respectful.

In other situations, such as, performance reviews, or times when we need to ensure that we are communicating in a very purposeful manner, we need to first be reaching for their best versus trying to stop their worst, understand what is important to them, as well as, understand how that fits with what we are wanting them to know. We need to ensure that they no longer need to defend what they believe is right, and we need to be framing our information with all of this in mind, using questions about the solution and the future, versus the problem and the past.

As I’m sure that you can imagine, this is much easier said than done, however it is learnable. Therefore, if you would like to become skilled at this sort of feedback, I suggest that you contact me, because, until we can frame our advice in a way that speaks to our confidence in their judgment, knowledge, and ability to learn, we will forever be driving them deeper into the resistant brain.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill