Dealing With Unsolicited Advice

No matter whether you are a parent, the owner of a dog, or raising a puppy; someone has offered you advice.

Everyone has an opinion as to the best way to quiet a noisy child, train a dog, or socialize a puppy. Everyone knows the ‘best’ way to do things.

What those who are offering advice seem to forget, though, is you have your own opinions as to how to do things. Dealing with unsolicited advice is hard; especially if you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

Why Do People Do This?

People offer unasked for advice for a number of reasons. Many, including relatives, may actually be trying to be helpful. Parents often tell their kids, “When I was your age my parents told me (fill in the blank).” These people generally feel that their suggestions may be helpful especially when they are the result of personal experience.

Neighbors or acquaintances may offer advice to become closer to you. Since there is already a minor connection, offering an opinion may help the relationship turn into friendship. The advice may or may not be helpful but in most cases there’s probably no malice involved.

Friends who genuinely wish to see you succeed at something, be it training your dog or raising your puppy, and who are experienced in that themselves; may well offer you good advice. At least they’ll offer good information for what worked for them.

Unfortunately, not all unsolicited advice is actually offered with good will. Sometimes its offered to make you look less experienced; especially if you are already stressed. For example, if your new puppy kept you up all night whining and you complain about the lack of sleep, someone may offer advice as to how to stop this. Instead of offering it in a helpful way, however, it may be said in a condescending tone of voice; implying that you should have known this.

You May be Soliciting Advice

If you ask a professional for advice and are paying for it, you are stating you want to hear that advice. You want the benefit of that professional’s education and experience. Then you can take that information, sort through it, and decide what you’ll do next.

If you ask someone else, a relative or friend, for help and they offer it, you can sort through the information prior to implementing anything or making any changes just as you would with professional information. After all, you asked for the information and even though you didn’t pay for it, as you did with the professional, you requested their opinion.

These two examples are not unsolicited offers of help, though; you asked for help. But you may also find yourself at the receiving end of unsolicited advice because you asked for it without realizing that you asked.

Be careful talking about certain issues; especially if you’re just venting but really don’t want advice. For example, you know your puppy will eventually be housetrained but you want to complain about the spots on your rug. If you’re complaining, people are prone to offer solutions. This is especially true if you complain often about the same thing.

People also like to alleviate pain of any kind so if you are acting overwhelmed, angry, sad, or otherwise unable to deal with a situation, that could be taken as a cry for help. You may not have said, in words, “Give me advice,” but it is taken that way by other people.

Curbing Unsolicited Advice

Since most people who offer advice are trying to be helpful, it’s rarely a good idea to be rude, angry, or otherwise negative when offered help. Keep your responses polite even if the advice is unsolicited. After all, the advice might give you something to think about even if you didn’t ask for it.

For most people, it pays listen to what they have to say. If you feel the advice is being offered with good intentions, you may even want to ask a question or two to clarify the information. Think about how many questions you ask, however, because if you continue the conversation, this person will take this as encouragement and will offer more advice in the future. At the same time, though, if this is good information then continue the conversation.

If the information is good, thank the person for the information and let them know you’ll consider it. You need to mull it over and decide if this will work for you.

Sometimes you will want to curb the flow of advice without causing a problem. Thank the person and then change the subject. “Thanks for the housetraining information, I’ll think about it. Hey, have you noticed the flowers blooming in the garden across the street?” Take the conversation in a completely different direction. You may get a confused look or two from the person offering advice but if you persist in the new conversational direction, they’ll follow your lead.

Once in a while you just need to say, “No, thanks.” I tend to leave this for those who won’t (or don’t) follow my conversational changes. If I want to talk about flowers, for example, and the person I’m talking to keeps going back to housetraining, I will just stop that line of discussion. “I hear what you’re saying but what I’m doing will work for us. Thanks anyway.”

If necessary, name drop. If you are, or have, worked with a professional trainer, behaviorist, or veterinarian, use their advice as a means of stopping a flow of contradictory unsolicited advice. “Thanks so much for your advice, but I’m taking Fluffy to see Dr. ABC and she recommends something different. Since she’s an expert and I value her opinion, we’re following her suggestions.” That can stop unsolicited advice with few hard feelings.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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