How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice


When someone gives you unsolicited advice, it can be tricky to know how to respond, no matter how well-intentioned it is. You don't want to hurt their feelings, but you also may not want to leave room for further advice. Sometimes, all you can do is politely acknowledge the advice and move forward. In other cases, however, you may need to shut the advice-giver down for crossing a boundary, or even leave the conversation.

Part 1
Keeping Your Cool

Keeping Your Cool on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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They may not realize when they overstep their bounds, and they might hope that you will genuinely benefit from their advice. Sometimes, unsolicited advice just means that the person cares about you and wants to make your life easier.[1] It is easy to take unsolicited advice as criticism. While this can be true, take their perspective into account and try to see if they are offering genuine, yet misguided support.

Keeping Your Cool on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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While it does not excuse their rude behavior, keep in mind that people often give unsolicited advice because they feel the need to be heard, or because it's what they're used to receiving from other people. Think about what may have led this person to share a piece of advice you did not need.[2] Some examples of experiences that might lead someone to give unsolicited advice are feeling unheard while growing up, going through a difficult time and projecting their own problems onto you, or they feel undermined in other areas of their life and give advice to feel more competent. In other cases, the person may feel more powerful by giving advice that no one asked for, or they may be overconfident in their abilities.[3] Gender is another factor, as men tend to give women more unsolicited advice, often as a result of undervaluing their skills.[4]

Keeping Your Cool on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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It’s often easiest to smile or laugh off unsolicited advice. By having a sense of humor about the situation, you can put yourself in the right frame of mind to shrug off the comment. For small, harmless suggestions, especially from strangers, put the situation in perspective and let your humor guide your response. Think about how the situation will make a funny story to tell your friends later, or how absurd it is for someone to think you might not know how to do a simple task. You can convey good-natured humor in your response out of politeness, even when you find the suggestion silly or ignorant. By saying something like, “Well, that’s a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that?” you may be enabling them to continue to offer unprompted advice, but it can help you avoid conflict.

Keeping Your Cool on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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It is easy to feel defensive when you receive unsolicited advice, in part because it can feel like the other person doesn’t trust you to handle things themselves. Sarcasm and criticism can make the person who gave you advice feel victimized, however, as they most likely won’t see what they did wrong.[5] Think about your relationship with the person. Especially if they are a friend or family member, you may not want to upset them. When interacting with a stranger, it can be easy to be dismissive or rude, but try responding in a firm, yet polite way if laughing off the advice doesn’t work.

Part 2
Moving on with the Conversation

Moving on with the Conversation on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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In many cases, the person just wants to feel heard or contribute to the conversation. Let them say their piece, even if it's unhelpful or completely wrong. They'll probably feel better once they finish talking and often just stop. Once they have finished, the conversation can move on.[6]

Moving on with the Conversation on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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Sometimes the easiest thing to do is nod, smile, say okay, and go ahead with your plans anyway. Particularly if the person is in a position of power, you might feel obligated to thank them before moving forward or changing the subject.[7] A simple reply that acknowledges the advice without committing is, "Thank you. I'll consider that." Another option would be, "Let me write that down so I can think it over." If you want to be more direct about your stance, say something like, "I already have a plan for handling this, but thank you for your perspective. I'll take it into consideration."

Moving on with the Conversation on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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A little humor can turn around an awkward situation. If you think of something silly to say, try saying it out loud. The two of you might be able to have a good laugh and move on. "If you think my desk is messy, you should see my bedroom. Some of my clothes have probably fossilized by now." "You know me. I love carbs far too much to change my diet." "I would, but my husband banned me from the kitchen after the second time I set myself on fire."

Moving on with the Conversation on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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Sometimes people who give advice have an ulterior motive (for better or for worse). If you can tell that an advice-giver is hoping you'll do something that makes them happy, try offering an alternative or addressing it directly. For example, you could say, "Are you trying to make an excuse to spend more time with me? Because you don't need one! Are you free this weekend?" If your family is resistant to a move, try countering with a solution, like,"I know that it's been a big change since I moved away from home. I enjoy living in the city, so I plan to stay there. Why don't we set some dates for you to come visit?"

Moving on with the Conversation on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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Changing the subject by asking a question can be a good way to distract a person who was piling on advice. Try asking about them, or about something you know they're interested in. This way, they're likely to stay engaged in the new topic. A general way to turn a conversation around is to say, "I'll keep that in mind. But enough about me. How was your day?" Another example would be, "My partner and I are going to make all our birthing decisions together. Do you know of any good parent and me classes?" Pet owners often give advice you didn’t ask for. One way to switch topics is with, "Thanks for the advice! You mentioned having two dogs. What are their names?"

Moving on with the Conversation on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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. Try to keep it positive by saying that it isn't right for you personally, while acknowledging that it could be right for them or someone else. This will help the other person realize that they gave advice you didn’t ask for.[8] You can try saying something like, "Thank you for trying to help, but I may have given the wrong impression. I'm not looking for advice right now." To be more clear about your non-interest, say, “I've tried that, but I found that it doesn't help me personally.” One way to turn down advice you find objectionable is to say, “That's not in line with my personal values."

Part 3
Confronting the Advice-Giver

Confronting the Advice-Giver on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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Sometimes, people say things that are downright rude, mean, or overly familiar. In that case, you may want to tell them that they've offended you or hurt your feelings.[9] Try to make "I" statements (e.g. "I'm upset") instead of a "you" statement (e.g. "you're rude") so that you don't put them on the defensive. One way to shut down a piece of unwanted advice would be to say, "I feel upset about this line of conversation. Let's please change the subject."

Confronting the Advice-Giver on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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If someone is repeatedly trying to give advice when it's not what you want, you may want to express your frustration in a constructive way. You can set a boundary in the conversation, or in general, if the person has a track record of offering unsolicited advice.[10] For a specific instance of needing to set a boundary you could say, "I know you're trying to help, but I really just need a listening ear right now," or simply "I'm not looking for advice at the moment." If someone has been giving you unsolicited advice for weeks, months, or years, try saying something like, “I often feel like you try to help in ways that show you don’t trust me to help myself,” or “I will ask for advice if I need to, but I need you to let me talk about this without trying to help.”

Confronting the Advice-Giver on How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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Sometimes people pile on unsolicited advice despite your attempts to redirect the conversation or set a boundary. In these situations, it may be easier to leave the conversation for a minute or end the conversation altogether. For instance, you might say, "Please excuse me. I remembered… " You could also say something like, "I need to get going now so I'm not late." A more firm approach would be to say something along the lines of, "I need to get to an appointment. It was nice talking to you!"