My name is Nancy, and I am an unsolicited advice giver.

I am also solution oriented.

As a Mediator, I am tasked with helping my clients to figure things out.  In my personal life, I’m responsible for making my own choices.   And along the way, I’m hopefully learning the difference between venting or solving, whether it has to do with someone else, or my own need. 

In a perfect world, we’d all express our expectations at the onset of a serious conversation.  That takes a bit of self-reflection to determine what sort of support we need.  I might call a colleague, David, when I’m dealing with clients who have complex finances that need to be divided.  I also might call David to share my own frustration about my clients’ stubbornness (protecting their privacy, of course).  How would David know what was expected of him?  Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  Yet it’s not always that simple.   

If only we were to start off a vent-or-solve conversation with a simple statement of our expectation.  My friend Gina is particularly good at this.  After we’ve exchanged the perfunctory pleasantries on the phone, she might say, “I need to get something off my chest.”  Instantly, I know that I’m expected to be supportive, and not necessarily helpful.  My friend Chris is also good at conveying the purpose for the conversation.  If he is asking me to suggest a make-ahead appetizer that he can bring to a potluck, I’m reasonably certain that he’s looking for advice rather than support.

If only everyone took an extra moment to choose their words . . .

Regardless, from time to time you’re going to receive unsolicited advice.  How do you sort through it?  How do you figure out whether it’s actually good advice even if it isn’t what you hoped to hear?  Maybe give some thought to the motivation of the person who’s given it to you.  Chances are, if I’m dishing out unsolicited advice, it’s because I’ve personally experienced something similar, and I want to share my findings.  My motivation is to be helpful.  On the other hand, what if the person espousing advice is someone who is actually in competition with you?  In my opinion, your co-worker, who’s inching closer to surpassing your gross sales for the month, might not be the best source for advice.

And although you didn’t ask me for my advice here, I’m going to suggest that you avoid disparaging another person’s advice, regardless of the intention behind it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated by my friend Rachel. who tends to ask me what she should do, and then no matter what I say, she replies either that she’s already tried it, or that it simply won’t work.  I really want to tell not to ask me, but I don’t.  Instead, I scramble to say something supportive.

The moral of my story?  We all could stand to improve our communication skills.