UCL School of Management

31 August 2021

Is there any value to unsolicited advice?

Two women sat opposite each other over a table discussing work in a skyscraper building with a view of London in the background

Writing for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Blaine Landis and Colin Fisher analyse the common disregard for unsolicited advice in the workplace and how valuable information can go to waste, even when it comes from our friends and close contacts.

Advice is often better received when people ask for it and while there are situations where people do feel comfortable asking advice from others, studies suggest that most people are reluctant to ask for advice in the first place, often for fear of embarrassment or an implied dependency on the person giving the advice. It is therefore important to understand how people react to unsolicited advice to learn how to prevent such advice from going to waste.

Their research firstly investigates what people who were given unsolicited advice attributed to the people who offered it. These attributions ranged from thinking of the advice-giver as self-serving (“I want to make myself look good”) to prosocial (“I want you to perform better on this task”). Blaine and Colin explain that unsolicited advice is more likely to be seen as self-serving, thus ruining its impact.

They go on to argue that it is therefore important to frame advice within the context of benefiting the other person and not yourself. One way in which to do this is to reduce the need for the advice to be unsolicited in the first place: making yourself approachable, asking questions and conveying a willingness to be supportive can help make people more comfortable in asking for advice.

Another strategy they suggest is to be self-deprecating when giving unsolicited advice. In doing so you can reduce the impression that the advice is for your benefit and not the person you are offering it to.

Read more

Last updated Wednesday, 1 September 2021