Why People Give Unsolicited Advice (Though No One Listens)

Guest Post by Seth Meyers Psy.D.

Originally posted in Psychology Today

How many people really take unsolicited advice?

Unsolicited advice is one of those facts of life that most of us don’t like but are forced to accept. To begin, what kind of person tends to give unsolicited advice? Personalities who are known colloquially as “alpha” personalities are the most frequent advice-givers. This article will highlight several factors or traits that help to explain why these men and women so often advise others on how to live.

Unsolicited advice-givers tend to be rigid in the way they approach life in general.

In terms of their thinking style, unsolicited advice-givers tend to be cognitively rigid. They typically believe that they are right, and when they approach a problem, they often have difficulty seeing the situation from multiple perspectives. They can be absolutist in their thinking, perceiving things in an all-or-nothing, black-or-white way.

They tend to have a grandiose sense of self or perception of their own competence.

In terms of their personality style, unsolicited advice-givers tend to be grandiose, believing that they are more intelligent, special, or sensible than others. Unsolicited advice-givers wouldn’t give advice if they didn’t believe that their feedback about how to approach a given situation was optimal or superior. These men and women tend to operate in daily life with the mindset that the world would run much more smoothly if only they could make all the decisions.

What’s lacking with this perspective is humility and insight. As bright and competent as they often are, one would expect that they learned a very basic truth long ago: We must make certain mistakes ourselves in order to learn from them and change our behavior later.

They are ruled by compulsion more than self-awareness.

If you know any unsolicited advice-givers, you know that it often seems as if they can’t stop themselves from giving advice. At root, they are compelled to give it. What’s interesting is that as self-assured and strong as they appear on the surface, they simultaneously lack a certain level of awareness. Not only are they not aware of others’ thoughts and feelings, but they also lack self-awareness. These individuals do not see how their actions are often unwarranted or even uncalled for, and they never stop to reflect on their own motivations for giving unsolicited advice in the first place.

They seek a sense of control and order.

People who give unsolicited advice do so not because they necessarily care about the receiving audience but because giving advice gives them a sense of control and order. The advice-giver has a problem-solving orientation which can be beneficial when applied to their own life, but often intrusive when applied to others’ lives. When someone shares an upsetting or difficult situation, the unsolicited advice-giver (consciously or unconsciously) feels anxious and is then compelled to write a prescription of “shoulds” in order to make the advice-giver feel like things are ordered, manageable and predictable.

The reason why most people don’t take unsolicited advice has to do with independence and defiance.

As adults, we’re not first graders who come when called. Adults have spent enough years listening to teachers preach in front of the classroom, or being subjected to parents who control so much of a child’s life. In other words, most men and women reach a point where they tire of listening to others tell them what to do, and they would rather make a mistake and suffer the consequence than comply like a dutiful child in response to advice, even if the advice would actually lead to a better result. What comes to mind is Swiss philosopher Rousseau’s famous quote from The Social Contract: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” It is precisely these chains that make men and women reject unsolicited advice. All that most men and women want as adults is a sense of independence and freedom.

Seth Meyers

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, TV guest expert, author, and relationship expert

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