Unsolicited Advice Is Not "Support"

The basic difference between "unsolicited advice" and "appropriate advice" is pretty simple; if a person doesn't specifically ask "what do you think?" or "what do you think I should do?" then they're not asking for advice.

Solicited advice is when a person asks specifically for it from someone else, like "What should I do?" or "How do I do this?" or "What should I use?"

Typically, a person who asks a specific question is asking for a specific answer, not a lecture on the entire subject as if they're clueless. "What kind of deck screws work best with Tyvek?" is NOT "What's a deck screw? What's Tyvek? How do you build a deck? What's a deck?" (Just answer the question. If you don't know the answer, then say that, don't babble trying to divert the person's attention away from the fact that you don't know the answer.)

Seeking neutral information and advice, but not personal advice, is like when we read a book that someone else wrote, or go on a forum or a weblog, or read a magazine article, or watch a show that gives information or advice. We're voluntarily going there, they're not coming TO US and TELLING US PERSONALLY what to do.

When people post memes, affirmations, information, observations, quotes, advice, news, or political stuff on the internet or on Facebook, that's not unsolicited advice, that's just their own posts.
They might be posting it for advice for themselves; or because it reminded them of a friend; or because they want to express themselves: or because they want to share information; or because they think it's beautiful; or they might be showing their friends or family something they made, like lots of people do every day with their own projects, 

If they posted those affirmations, expressions, or advice on someone else's page in order to "tell them they should be doing this" or "thinking this", that's "unsolicited advice". When they go on someone else's post and make personally directed remarks at the poster, and when they directly "advise" a person (without being asked) who posted a vent, a lament, or an experience, that's unsolicited advice.

My friend Steve
When my friend is upset about his job because something happened and starts telling me about it, I don't tell him what he "should have done", or what he "should do", or what he "needs to do in the future".
I just listen, and ask questions about what happened, and let him tell me the story, and acknowledge what he says and how he handled it.
That's not MY job, and I'm not HIM, and that's not my life, and I wasn't there.
If I do see something that MIGHT be useful for him that he might not have thought of, I might say something like "Hey I was just thinking, did you ever try doing such and such?"
But I don't go "You really need to be more assertive... faster.. more efficient... less sensitive...get up earlier...etc."

I don't think about what advice I'm going to give him instead of listening to him while he's talking. I listen while he's talking, so I can hear him and comprehend what he's saying.

When he tells me he ate an entire bag of cookies in one sitting, I WILL say "you know that's not good for you, right?" because it's actually a danger to his health.
When he tells me he's talking and driving in severely heavy traffic, I WILL say "just call me later" or "call me when you stop", because I get that he's stressed out so he's probably not thinking clearly, just like I probably wouldn't be in that situation.   

 But when he says it's raining out, I don't go "Oh I hope you took your umbrella with you!" or "Make sure you close your windows!" or "You should stay home in this weather" or "Wear a raincoat" etc etc.

When he says someone is driving him nuts, I don't say "Well this is what you need to do." or "You should be more understanding". or "You need to calm down" or "You need to take a pill".

I might say "That's gotta be hard", or "How do you deal with that?" or "What happened after that?" or "Do you want to get out of there for a while and come meet me?" or "Hey you want to go get pizza?"

I would not say "You should get out of there and go for a walk".
That's directive and impersonal, it's not supportive, and it's sending the person AWAY, by themselves.
Why would I do that? So I don't have to "deal" with the person myself? I'm too busy.. too tired.. they bore me.. I'd rather watch cartoons...
Why don't I say "Let's go for a walk" or "call me back as soon as you can" instead, offering personal connection?
(Because I don't want to offer personal connection, I want them to go away and stop bothering me...because I don't really care about them all that much, I just pretend to because it makes me seem like a good person and keeps me on their good side....)


Advice is not the same as "support".

When a person is dealing with something stressful, the last thing they need is me chiming in with "You should do this" or "Why aren't you doing that", and especially when I'm not even there presently with them, dealing with it alongside them.
If they're obviously extremely stressed out, anxious, or scared, and I can't actually DO anything at the moment to physically help, then sure, I'll try to help them find a solution, but a solution that would work for THEM, not for ME. It MIGHT be something that works for me, but it might not. They're a completely different person in their own life and situation. If I can't help them figure something out quickly, then I'll look for someone else who might be able to help.

Support is being present, listening, and hearing, and helping when appropriate, but not when it's not needed or wanted.
It's sharing one's point of view and experiences from where one is sitting or standing.
It's not looking at another and trying to judge their level of experience, capability, strength, or knowledge compared to one's own, and then treating them like they're less capable.

Support is being there for a person, giving them neutral or positive feedback, "Yes I can see what you mean" or "That's a good idea" or "Yeah that sounds like a good plan" or "you did a good job", or "that makes sense" (because it does, because we actually listened to them while they spoke, or what they wrote).
Or actually being there with them while they carry out ideas and plans.
It's also telling them when a plan looks like the wrong move, but only if it honestly looks like they're endangering or screwing themselves or someone else.
("Hey I was thinking of robbing a bank tomorrow" ..."That's probably not the best idea... how about not doing that so you don't go to prison.")

But always telling them that they're not doing enough, or not doing something right, or "should" be doing something else instead in non-dangerous, non-sabotaging choices, activities, and goals is not supportive, it's just oppositional and controlling.

If what they're doing or saying is NOT harmful to me or someone else, for real, then why am I so concerned about what they're doing or how they're doing it? Am I preventing them from falling off a cliff by criticizing the way they cook spaghetti or wash their socks?

Support is also going to the DMV with a person when they have to renew their registration. It's giving them a ride to the doctor's, and waiting for them, and then maybe going to lunch.
It's helping them with a task or project, and not trying to take over or be the expert.
It's listening to them vent or cry when they're dealing with something difficult or overwhelming. Listening, not talking, not telling them what they "should" do. (We don't even know what it's like to be in their shoes, or all the facets of their situation, why would we think for a minute we know better than they do what they should do? Especially when we keep thinking about what we're going to say, and talking, instead of listening to them tell us about their situation or experiences!)

Support is asking for more information, and then asking again, because we're trying to get a broader and more accurate view of what they're dealing with, or what they experienced.
"So what did you do when the bear came charging toward you?! How did you get away?!"
"You should have... If it was me, I would have... Why didn't you...Next time you should..."

Support is giving a person space and respecting their boundaries.
It's respecting their point of view. It's respecting them as an individual person as important and real as one's self, or anyone else. Support is recognizing their actual experiences, skill, knowledge, and capability, and not trying to diminish them.

"Advice" however is not being there for them or with them. It's about TELLING them something from our own point of view in a personal way. Not just sharing our own experiences, knowledge, or observations in a neutral way, but DIRECTING our own point of view AT them, personally.
It's "This is what I think you should do", NOT "If you need anything call me." (which would be support).
Advice is wanted when it's asked for, but the advice giver has a responsibility toward the person who asked.
"Do I really know what I'm talking about? Have I actually done this in my own lifetime? Do I honestly have the experience, knowledge, or skill to be giving advice on this?"

And if one does not have the experience or knowledge, then it's one's responsibility to recognize that and SAY it.

(Those with control or narcissism issues will often NOT admit it, and act like they're an expert even though they have little or no idea; and they'll do that with anything at all from giving directions, to doing a trade, to career or relationship advice.)

"Do I know this person's whole situation? Do I understand this person's point of view, or anything real about this person, such as their past, their experience, their strengths, their traumas, their goals, their aspirations, their abilities?

If they didn't ask for what we "think they should do" specifically, then they probably don't want our opinion in the first place, which is NOT an "insult" to a person who does not have an inflated ego or control issues.

Parents and children, (and other adults in a child's life), that's another matter; our responsibility as parents is to guide and mentor our children, and part of their job as children growing up is to rebel against the adults in their life (BOTH girls and boys, not just boys.)
The rebellion process is about unfastening one's identity and decision-making from one's parents in order to become an actual self-reliant adult with inner confidence and self-esteem.
So as parents, we have the responsibility of "teaching them to fly", which means the difficult task of knowing what to say, when to say it, being there for support but not suffocating them, being there to advise but not condescend, being there to mentor but not be a critical ninny. Teaching them to fly without knocking them out of the nest so they break their wings from the fall, and without flapping their wings FOR them as if they aren't capable, thereby never actually letting them learn how to fly.  

However with other adults, we are not their parents. They are not "in our charge", nor are we their "authority".  
Being respectfully supportive of others makes the world go 'round and the sun come out, but being self-appointed advisors, being condescending, shaming, critical, accusatory and controlling makes the world grind to a screeching halt and makes everything dreary and grey.