Give Unasked-for Advice
Many people take offense at unasked-for advice:
- If I want your advice, Ill ask
- Where do you come off telling me what
to do? You think youre so smart. Well,
- Just because I have a problem,
doesnt mean I want you to fix it. I just
want to be heard.
Yet Jack Welch, GEs celebrated former CEO,
told me that among his proudest achievements was
creating a culture at GE that encouraged
unasked-for advice and feedback. That way,
when I had to let people go, it was no surprise to
them. And of course, the remaining employees
were getting more useful input than they would have
received at other corporations. That, of course,
helped them grow, and in turn, helped the company
provide better products and services.
When you stop to think about it, that makes
perfect sense. Imagine I created two clones of a
workplace. In Workplace A, senior management
created a culture in which honest feedback and
suggestions, even if unsolicited, were encouraged.
So, if an employee saw a co-worker or even the boss
doing something that seemed ineffective, the
company norm was to tactfully provide the input.
The issues could range from bad breath to poor
communication style to a weak approach to a task.
And in the absence of a problem, when an employee
had an idea, he or she would be encouraged to share
it with the appropriate person.
In contrast, in Workplace B, the norm was to
give advice and feedback only when requested. If
you see a problem or have an idea you think would
help a co-worker or boss? Keep it to yourself
unless your input is requested. Unfortunately, most
people with bad breath, a weak approach to tasks,
or poor communication style are unaware of their
deficiency and so wouldnt ask for input even
if they were mature enough to admit to that
So Id bet that Workplace As
employees would grow more than Workplace Bs.
Theyd also have more opportunities to feel
the pleasure of sharing ideas with others. And able
to confront frustrating coworkers directly,
theyd be less likely to bad-mouth and
otherwise sabotage them. That would avoid the
culture of office politics, backstabbing, and
paranoia that poisons so many workplaces.
Of course, input, asked-for or not, must be
dispensed tactfully, something easier said than
done. So, if I were in charge of an organization,
instead of scheduling another of those hokey
team-building or diversity workshops, Id
offer a session on direct yet tactful
communication. For example, a poor way to give
advice is: I think you should do X.
Better: Would you mind if I offered a
suggestion? Few people will say no. After
getting assent, say, Ive noticed X.
Might you want to consider Y?
That workshop would also need to address many
employees ingrained resistance to giving or
receiving unsolicited input. Many employees come
from families or cultures in which direct feedback,
even if solicited, is rare.
Advice Id Give My Child
You do a co-worker a favor by tactfully giving
unsolicited advice. If, however, the recipient
reacts poorly, and especially if he or she seems
likely to retaliate, consider, in the future,
withholding such favors from that employee.
And when someone gives you an unsolicited
suggestion, be grateful. It just gives you a new
option: you can always reject it. And if its
a criticism, also be appreciative: Its better
to be stabbed in the front than in the back.
Being open to giving and getting unsolicited
advice will also help your relationships. So many
couples stew inwardly which damages the
Encouraging you to give unasked-for advice is
among the most potent pieces of unasked-for advice
I could give you.
© 2007, Marty
* * *
Nemko holds a PhD from the University of
California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in
Berkeleys Graduate School of Education. He is
the worklife columnist in the Sunday San Francisco
Chronicle and is the producer and host of Work With
Marty Nemko, heard Sundays at 11 on 91.7 FM in
(NPR, San Francisco), and worldwide on
400+ of his published writings are available free
on that website and is a co-editor of
Careers for Dummies.
and author of The All-in-One College Guide.
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