The Case for Not Giving Unsolicited Advice

Content note: examples of ableism and transphobia used to support arguments

Hi all,

One of the things that have been an issue as of late for me is something that marginalised people typically face when trying to improve a situation. I’m talking about unsolicited advice. Today I’m gonna explain in this blogpost why people really need to lay off with advice when it’s not explicitly sought. To provide supporting examples, I’m going to use my ongoing homelessness situation as it is an example of a situation where unsolicited advice is not helpful.

It’s not helpful

A lot of people who give unsolicited advice often do not understand the complexities of a situation. This comes from two angles. Firstly, the individual. Each person has their own individual circumstances that mean their case is unique in the eyes of professionals. While there are common themes in people’s stories, there are personal stories and access needs that make each case different. For some people, this makes their matters more complicated. For many, this also makes their cases sensitive hence details aren’t disclosed readily. This means that many people who other help do not know these complexities, which means their advice is unhelpful – despite good intentions.

The second angle is that many people do not realise how government policy – especially by capitalist, right-wing governments – has led to services being underfunded and understaffed. Hence demand often outstripping supply. So things are going to take longer because there isn’t enough money or people available to help. Furthermore, a lot of privileged people will not see this reality because they haven’t experienced it. Many people don’t have supportive family or friends nor the money and privilege to buy support quickly. Furthermore, many people get gatekept by professionals for who they are – such as trans people getting barred from single-gender spaces because they are trans.

The same things are said over and over again

Remember, when I said there are common themes providers find when people are close to getting the support they need? One of them is that they have been failed by services repeatedly. People expect solutions to be simple and happen instantly hence make things sound so easy – and this gets upsetting. I’ve had multiple people tell me to “get [my] housing sorted first” before doing anything else. One person even cited Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

These people do not understand the systematic barriers I’ve faced and the fact I need a lot of support to do this – something which I’ve only started to get after moving halfway across the UK (aka drastic action). It’s very unsettling that people act it is that simple for everyone. Still, for many in complex situations like mine, it merely isn’t, and it feels dismissive to have it oversimplified in this way. This is often done repeatedly, by well-meaning sources who don’t know each other so cannot discuss cases in depth.

Frequently hearing the same advice is demoralising and eventually becomes grating. They are scripts – often used to mock neurodivergent people when they are using them – yet ableds seem to get away with using them. It’s a double standard that impacts neurodivergent people in general, but it’s particularly noticeable here.

People feel an obligation to help, even when they can’t

I’ve found when I’ve talked to people, they do sincerely mean well and want to help. And that is a good thing and they deserve credit for that. But in many cases, they can’t and therefore give advice because they feel a social obligation to be helpful. Hence they provide the information to ease this pressure on themselves.

When people vent, they are often not asking for help. Yes, we’ve likely tried what you think is obvious and for many reasons, we haven’t got anywhere. You don’t have an obligation to help us a lot of the time. And if you do, we will often ask directly. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to listen and let us vent. That is more helpful than any advice nine times out of ten.

Sometimes we are gatekept, other times there are genuine access needs or extra barriers that we can’t overcome. A good example is how many services only offer a telephone contact method which is not accessible for many people. Therefore, a lot of emergency/crisis support is not accessible, like support lines. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been given crisis lines by people trying to support me only for me to explain that I can’t access it. I’ve had to start preemptively telling people not to offer them which has finally got people to back off.

Asserting needs is key for people in complex situations

Marginalised people have to assert their needs preemptively a lot – if it is even safe to do so. We aren’t “typical clients” – we are people dealing with the most challenging periods of our lives and we have additional support needs. So yes, that means telling providers not to contact people via the phone in advance before they suggest it if possible. It means telling providers what our triggers are in advance, so they aren’t likely to set them off by mistake. Sometimes it means not saying anything at all about certain aspects if possible. To give one example, trans people who have passing privilege are usually better off not disclosing to services they are transgender as it risks discrimination.

Good people will accommodate our needs. Good people will respect our boundaries. Good people will understand that unsolicited advice is often counterproductive. Good people that don’t understand any of this yet will take the time to learn and help their staff be better at supporting vulnerable people. If you’ve read this article, that’s an excellent sign. The world needs good people and active support networks. One way to do that is understanding the lived experience of service users. Hopefully, this post has gone a little way towards this goal.

That’s all for today,
Milla xx