Every leader receives unsolicited advice, but what is the best way to react to it?
Unsolicited advice can be a blessing or a curse. It either comes from a source whom you trust to guide and direct you through wisdom and experience, or it may originate from someone who only shares to benefit their own self-esteem and feeling of importance.
The trouble with advice is that those giving it often expect you to act upon what they suggest, whether you like it or not. Everyone has opinions, and most people are happy to share theirs when asked. It's when you don't ask, and they still offer, that tensions often arise.
When you're the recipient of someone's unsolicited opinion, it is easy to become offended or defensive. Your response is key to maintaining – and even growing – that relationship moving forward. How you respond to their ideas can make or break your ability to influence them in the future, as well as their willingness to help when you genuinely need it.
Here are eight ways to handle others’ unsolicited advice and opinions:
Ignore your urge to stop someone short of sharing their advice. Allow them to finish their thoughts and express their ideas. Make eye contact with them and show a genuine interest in what they have to say. Acknowledge their ideas by nodding your head. Maintain a receptive posture by keeping your body at a neutral stance with legs and arms uncrossed.
2. Keep an open mind.
Don't get lost in your thoughts or inner dialogue the moment someone starts to share an unsolicited opinion. Instead, hear what they have to say. Ideas can often be gleaned from the simplest thoughts or from a perspective that's not our own. We can typically guess what those closest to us would have to say when asked, but those offering unsolicited advice may have an unexpected interpretation.
3. Be willing to learn.
Some people offer opinions because they like to hear themselves talk while others share because they have experience in that topic. Before writing off their idea, learn where their advice originates. See if they reference their own previous experience that perhaps you didn't know about. Learn from their mistakes or lessons before embarking on your own.
4. Avoid getting defensive.
Some personality traits thrive on the feeling of power they experience when sharing opinions and ideas. If a know-it-all speaks up, don’t get defensive. Just let it go. Don’t allow their reaction, advice or arrogance to frustrate you. It's not worth it. Contemplate where their advice originates. Perhaps it's a personal insecurity or an apprehension for risk-taking. Attempting to comprehend why they interject can help you understand why their advice provokes your emotional reaction.
5. Identify advocates.
You never know if someone is giving you advice because they truly care about your success and idea. When you keep an open mind and listen intently, you can spot advocates whom you never knew you had. These individuals may become mentors or peers whom you may someday trust to give honest, open feedback when needed most.
6. Respond politely.
When you disagree with their opinion, acknowledge and respond without saying, “Thanks, but no thanks!” Simple phrases – “I’ll consider that” or “That’s an interesting perspective” – help transition back to your idea without creating unnecessary tension. It gives you an opportunity to acknowledge what they said without committing to their idea.
7. Consider the relationship.
Before you write off someone's opinion, consider your relationship. If you're an entrepreneur searching for funding, rejecting a venture capitalist’s advice is likely not wise. On the flip side, if you're in a position of authority with bigger issues at stake, accepting input from someone with a limited perspective can be unwise. Decide how that person relates to your decision before you dismiss their ideas. Maintaining your relationship and ability to influence is vital to your continued success.
8. Use discretion.
Everyone encounters those individuals, either personally or professionally, who always have something to say about everything we do. If you find yourself conversing with someone like this, use discretion before sharing your latest ideas. Expect that you'll get an opinion in return, so use your best judgment before indulging them with the details.
Before you reject any unsolicited advice, consider these eight tips first. Take a moment to listen and keep an open mind. You never know what you may learn or how your positive response can influence their future decisions.