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What’s the Best Way to Handle Unsolicited Advice From Family Members?

Holiday gatherings can be an especially fraught time for unwelcome advice. Our expert says to try to remain curious, open, and polite. Here’s how.

Intergenerational family members catching up

Unsolicited advice can at times be welcome and helpful; at other times it can be irritating. When it comes from a family member, you may find yourself in a dilemma: You don’t want to alienate your relative, but you don’t want to simply knuckle under either.

Curt Micka, JD, a personal coach, consultant, and mediation specialist, offers a surprising suggestion: Use your curiosity.

“Don’t get hung up on how these conversations have gone in the past with Uncle Bill, Grandma, or whomever,” he says. “Tell yourself that you want to change the pattern this time.

“If the suggestion doesn’t appeal to you, you don’t need to get defensive, talk about yourself, or explain why their suggestion won’t work for you and why you don’t want to do it. Instead, take the focus off yourself and switch it onto the person who is giving the advice, with a polite and neutral inquiry. Say something like, ‘So tell me more about that. Why do you think that would be a good idea for me?’”

By approaching the advice with real curiosity, sincerely wanting to know more about it, you will not only make the advice-giver feel respected, Micka notes, but you may discover some aspect of the advice that is actually helpful.

If you continue to feel resistance, Micka suggests following up with something like this: “Help me understand why you think that would be beneficial for me. I’m not sure I understand. I can tell you have my best interests at heart, and I’d like to hear more.”

To bring the conversation to a conclusion, show gratitude while making it clear that you’re going to decide on your own: “I appreciate that you want to help me, that you want me to be successful and deal with this in an appropriate way. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to consider what you’ve told me and some other options, too. If you’d like, I’ll let you know what I decide. Thanks for thinking of me.”

If your relative wants to know what you decide and you don’t follow his or her advice, you can still remain curious, open, and polite, Micka says.

“You can tell that person what you’ve decided to do and why you’ve decided to do it: ‘Here’s why I’ve decided that this would be the best for me. I’m still open to hearing your perspective.’”

This usually works because it lets the advice-giver feel validated. “It’s quite miraculous when a person feels like they’ve been heard, seen, and understood,” Micka says. “What they actually are suggesting becomes a lot less important to them than the fact that you acknowledge that they’re trying to be helpful.”

This originally appeared as “The holidays stress me out because I receive a lot of unsolicited advice from family members. What’s the best way to handle it?” in the November 2019 issue of Experience Life.

is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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