Thoughtful Thursday: Unsolicited

May 6, 2010

Thoughtful Thursday

Welcome to May’s Intelligentsia, the people who commented on every Thoughtful Thursday post for the month of April.

#16: Wiseguy from Woman Anyone?
#12: Photogrl from Not the Path I Chose
#10: Lost In Translation from We Say IVF, They Say FIV
#7: Elana from Elana’s Musings
#6: A from Are You Kidding Me?
#5: Stacie from Heeeeere Storkey, Storkey!

Thoughtful ThursdayA few days ago I spent time with a handful of people at the home of a new baby and her parents. At one point, the husband chastised his wife for having left the baby in the bathtub earlier in the week. She defended herself that it was only for a minute to run upstairs and get an article of clothing.

My husband and I, two of the least judgmental people around, both had the same internal reaction:

What the hell is wrong with you?

Before we could say anything, someone else in the group chastised her. “You really shouldn’t do that. You can’t leave her alone in the bath for even a second.” When she tried to explain herself, he reiterated, “You cannot ever leave a baby alone in the bathtub.” I think she got the message. I hope she got the message.

If that fellow hadn’t spoken up, I’m not sure what I would have done. People ask me for advice often, but unless I’m asked, I don’t like to give unsolicited advice. There was a clear safety issue in this case, but even so, I’m not in the habit of walking into someone’s house and telling them that they have done something horrible. The fact that the husband was calling her out in front of other people indicated that he knew she was wrong, and perhaps he was trying to garner support in an effort to convince her. In a way, he was soliciting advice on her behalf.

Part of the reason I don’t care for unsolicited advice is that it tends not to go over well. People are rarely receptive. It also creates a dynamic where the advice-giver seems to be acting superior, which is no fun for anyone. Furthermore, in many cases unsolicited advice isn’t even correct or helpful. The people who give the most advice seem to be the ones least qualified to do so.

The exception to my rule about not giving unsolicited advice is my mother. Although she often protests, she has also expressed appreciation that I “talk some sense into her.”

With DH, I have gotten less and less bossy over time. Sometimes I ask him to do something or I give him tips for optimizing efficiency or improving technique — how to put on a diaper to prevent leaks, or how to cut the core out of an apple without throwing away too much edible fruit. Recently he thanked me for the way that I gently offer constructive suggestions. It’s only taken me a decade and a half to perfect.

What is your stance on giving unsolicited advice? In what situations do you give advice that people haven’t asked for, and when do you keep your opinions to yourself?

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17 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Unsolicited”

  1. strongblonde Says:

    i’m like you. i will give advice if asked, but even then i feel like i have to be delicate with it. i think that sometimes people ask for advice b/c they think that you are going to agree with them. if you don’t, then you become the person who always had that bad advice. for example: my friend’s mother was asking all kinds of questions about a sore thumb. i talked to her about it for a bit, but then it became apparent that she thought that she knew what the injury was from and how to fix it. ultimately i just told her not to do anything that made it hurt. i said it in a joking manner so that we could just be done with the whole conversation. she has since told her son that she will never ask me about anything again. why bother asking if you don’t want to know?

    ….for me it also boils down to the fact that i’m super shy and don’t like talking to people that i don’t know. 🙂

  2. Elana Kahn Says:

    I am totally guilty of it. I give unsolicited advice all the time and usually don’t keep my opinions to myself. lol I just have no filter–I probably have undiagnosed Aspberger’s. 🙂

  3. a Says:

    People (and by people, I mean my husband) have labelled me a know-it-all, so I assume that means I give out plenty of unsolicited advice. I get enthusiastic about things, and I don’t think people necessarily interpret my enthusiasm for something as advice (again, except my husband). I can usually tell when people are receptive.

    The thing I do more than give advice is to counter advice other people give. One of my SILs has recently become obsessive about “natural” cures. Some of the things she’s come up with are downright dangerous suggestions, such as week-long fasts to help arthritis. My husband and his family have extremely fast metabolisms, and for them, fasting would be hazardous. My husband gets a little crazy fasting overnight for a blood test.

    I would have had to say something to the mom – that would have been incredibly hard to resist.

  4. Kristin Says:

    Honestly, I try to stay as far away from unsolicited advice as I can. I’m not always successful but, I have learned to be better at keeping my mouth shut (for all the reasons you talk about unsolicited advice not being taken well).

  5. Rebecca Says:

    I try not to give it, mostly because I hate being lectured myself!


  6. Hmmm…my husband will probably say I give him too much unsolicited advice (or in other words, I tell him too often how to do things, not intentionally, but it just happens, especially when it comes to the daily routine with the baby). But on the other hand I don’t give unsolicited advice easily to other people. The only time I really can’t keep my mouth shut though is when I someone is saying something that is just plain wrong. Then I have to correct them, can’t help myself, but I don’t know if that falls into the unsolicited advice category…

  7. heather Says:

    i always seem to do it to my husband, i assume its the comfort level that leads me to believe i can. still working on my phrasing though! i know it bugs him sometimes (cause he tells me so!).

  8. Dora Says:

    I probably do it more than I should. Even though I don’t like it myself. Oh damn, I’m tragically flawed!

    Although, in the instance you wrote about, the woman DEFENDED her dangerous actions. She seriously needed a smack in the head. You don’t turn away from a baby in a bathtub for a SECOND!!

  9. Ana Says:

    My husband is the KING of unsolicited advice…to ME and only ME about how to do things HIS WAY (which is, of course, the BEST way). I love him dearly but it drives me INSANE!

    So I try not to give advice about little things, or things that don’t have any true right/wrong way. The situation you describe is not a little thing. It is super-dangerous ( I got freaked out just thinking about it!) and I would hope that my friends would risk embarrassing me to let me know if I was unknowingly or unthinkingly doing something that would endanger my child. I’m SURE she will never do it again, and a moment of annoyance or embarrassment is way better than the possible alternative!!!!
    The fact that she was defending herself is probably a result of her embarrassment at being called out in front of friends, with no doubt some guilt thrown in. I think it’d be hard for a mother to admit, even to herself, that she did the WRONG thing and put her child’s life in danger, even by accident.

  10. ^WiseGuy^ Says:

    Well, my ears would have stood up instantly if that discussion/mention had happened in front of me, but I wonder if that fellow regularly criticizes his spouse in front of guests? He may be looking for support or may have done it randomly but still?

    I prefer to not give unsolicited advice/suggestions.

    I have learnt to shut up a bit in office for a peculiar reason….I managed to recommend words to a co-worker for a press article, when he and another fellow were having some difficulty in composing the piece. Now, if they have any trouble the material comes to me, because uh, my skills are mildly exemplary. If I would not have opened my mouth that day, I would not have managed to increase work for myself. So, I do find myself holding back a bit in office for that reason.

    Secondly, if my opinion will not only be not accepted, and if I know that it won’t even be considered by the other person, I would prefer to not say anything.

    Small words of advice here and there often do fly between me and DH though, and usually it is for the purpose you mentioned…namely efficiency.

    If it could save somebody’s life though, I would give the unsolicited advice.

  11. Jules Says:

    I don’t usually but as some others have said, when you’re talking about a potentially dangerous situation, then I think it’s okay. Maybe the husband should have brought up first in private (maybe he did?) but yeah, she needs to be set straight on that issue.

    Also is an issue of time- if hubby or a close friend is doing something that’s not the best idea over and over, it can get to a point where I’ll bring it up.

    Esp. in the realm of parenting and pregnancy, it’s only if the topic is brought up and it’s never “here’s what to do” moreso “here’s what worked for me” (non life-threatening issues)

  12. Photogrl Says:

    I try to not give advice without being asked…but I’m sure I’ve done it, and not even thought about it.

    If I’m questioned about something, even then I find myself prefacing it with, “Well, this is how I do it, but every baby/body/person is different.”

  13. Erica Says:

    I agree with you. I only give advice to people I know really well because I believe they will listen. Most others don’t give a crap about what I or anyone else has to say. So, I shut up. This was kind of an exceptional situation though. I may have said something to her in private cause I would have been worried.

  14. Staciet Says:

    I also agree. I try very hard to not give advice unless asked. I hate to be on the receiving end, so I hate to do that to someone else.

    But if you ask me my opinion, all bets are off. Be prepared to hear it!

  15. coffeegrl Says:

    I try not to give unsolicited advice -something that seems to just flow from moms though we try our hardest not to dispense with it (esp. to new moms). I will give advice if asked, but I always try to take into consideration that our parenting styles or personalities or situations may be different too. We’ve got friends who have a very easily upset, very emotional 2.5 year old who just looks to me like he could use some more sleep (maybe 8 or 9 hours a night on avg.) and sporadic (at best naps). But I keep my mouth shut because they’re just not able to support him with the sleep situation for a variety of reasons and ultimately I think they really feel that’s not the problem anyway. *shrugs* Okay. No point in me rocking their boat. So we all just grin and bear the cranky toddler and hope that someday he may get an improved attitude.


  16. I’ve learned the hard way not to give advice unless I’m asked for it. But when I’m asked, man does it gush on and on.it’s hard to keep quiet when you’re a know-it-all. But in many ways I have found not giving advice easier. When people actually take my advice I feel very responsible if things don’t go their way, so now I just settle for being encouraging in a constructive way and asking them questions so that they can come to their own conclusion. I don’t think a husband calling his wife out in front of other parents is helpful. She probably felt attacked and I wonder if an argument wasn’t had later on after you guys left. There were better ways that that husband could have handled that.


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