It happens to the best of us.
And getting unsolicited advice recently happened to one of my reader’s, Sy.
I’ve been a fan of your newsletters for awhile now. My favorites are the ones where you share what other readers are going through and provide them with some insights on how to best react to the situation.
I’ve used a few of your insights already, like the ones you posted in How to Respond When People Perceive Your Work As “Soft”. They gave me some perspective and kept me motivated when I was in a similar situation to Lee.
Now I’m reaching out, because I’m going through a tough situation with a good friend of mine, and hoping you can provide some guidance.
The other day my good friend Jae and I were catching up.
I was sharing all the progress I’ve made with my startup this year. Our revenue is in the high six figures, we’ve had great customer retention, and while my team and I had some tough challenges in the beginning of the year, we’ve done a great job of sticking together and pushing through them.
When I was done sharing Jae turned to me and said, “Well it’s time to think about seven figures!”
And then proceeded to launch into a series of suggestions for things I needed to do in 2017.
Sure seven figures would be great, and I’m not one to become complacent. I know the challenges that it’s going to take my team and me to get to the seven-figure mark.
But I couldn’t get a word in. Jae was like a freight train running over me with tons of advice and action items like what to do next and who to meet.
And while Jae is currently at a startup that is making well above eight figures a year, Jae wasn’t a part of the early team. So Jae’s experience is limited.
Honestly, I just wanted to hang out with my friend, sip wine, and toast to our success in 2016. I didn’t want to be lectured on what I’m should be doing, and talk shop the whole time.
I’m worried that the next time we meet up Jae is going to ask me if I followed the recommendations.
How do I tell Jae to back off politely?
Telling anyone to back off is hard, and it’s even tougher when it’s coming from a person who cares, like a good friend. Even though their advice is well meaning, it can still be unsolicited advice and awkward.
You might also be in a situation one day when you do want their advice.
Here are a few ways to address their advice and the spirit that is motivating it.
Start by understanding where they are coming from
People who care about us often offer us unsolicited advice because they’ve seen someone make a mistake, could even have been them, and they want to save us from making it!
Hence it’s important to take a moment to understand what is prompting them to unleash the advice.
You could say something like, “It’s great that you’re interested in seeing my startup succeed. It also sounds like you’re concerned about us making a mistake. Am I right or off base here?”
Wait for their response, and see if it’s coming from a personal experience.
Acknowledge the limits of their advice
Other times people just want to be valuable and will say things like, “Oh you should do X!” Followed by, “It’s so easy, and I know someone who recently tried it out and it worked for them.”
Or, “Oh I can introduce you to Person Y! Want me to do an email intro to Person Y?”
What might have worked for someone else may or may not work for you. You don’t have all the details to decide. But just saying that is often insufficient because they’ll reply with, “Of course it will, you are just as smart as they are!”
So if you want them to acknowledge that their advice is a bit superficial have them dig deeper by asking questions like:
- Who tried it out?
- Why did they try it out?
- Did they have a similar sized team?
- What were the challenges they experienced along the way?
- Were they the only ones who did X or were there others? And what were their experiences?
You’ll either get them to realize that the advice is superficial or discover that your friend does know the whole context. In either case, you need more info if you’re going to take this under consideration.
You’re already doing what they suggested
“That’s a great idea, and we started implementing it a couple months ago, I’ll let you know how it goes.”
Then move on.
Yeah, I know there maybe a follow like, “You should also try Z!”
In which case you can respond, “Just as soon as we’re finished.”
Problem solvers won’t relent until the problem has been solved
It’s just how the human brain works.
And when they are people who care about your success they are open to also understanding the challenges you’re going through.
If you want their help you could say something like, “Well I’d like to try X, but right now my team and are really stuck on Y. Do you have any personal experience handling Y?”
Finally, as I understand it Sy just wanted to have a relaxing time with Jae. It’s OK to say, “Hey, I appreciate the advice. Can we talk about it another time? Today I just want to celebrate our success!”
Now I want to know, have you been in Sy’s shoes? How did you respond to unsolicited advice in a way that was respectful? Let me know in the comments!