A Much Better Way to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

Does everyone seem to be an unsolicited advice giver in your church?

I mean, how often do you hear, “Can I give you just a small suggestion?

I get it. I critique everything we do, as well. When you are a part of something, you want it to be great. When you serve and give to a church, you want your time and resources to be leveraged in the best way possible. Unfortunately, “great” is quite subjective. Every opinion is just that — an opinion. Good, bad, or terrible. (Insert pithy quote about armpits and … you know the rest.)

“The music is so loud.” “Too quiet.” “Too bassy.” “Not thumping enough.” 
“The sermon is too long.” “Too short.” “Not helpful.” “TOO helpful (substitute convicting).”
“It’s too crowded.”
“Somebody sat in my seat.”
“There wasn’t enough … Scripture, songs, parking, coffee, snacks, blah, blah blah.”
“There was too much … Scripture, songs, parking, coffee, snacks, blah, blah blah.”

I’m sure everyone means well, but hearing this week in and week out doesn’t do my heart well.

I use to respond with a simple “Thanks for your feedback. We’re working on that…” Sometimes that was true. Sometimes that was just an acceptable response. Sometimes that was a way more acceptable response that I wanted to give! Either way, it typically ended the conversation.

After many years of receiving unsolicited suggestions, though, I’ve decided on a new approach. And it seems to be working.

If you approach me with unsolicited advice, here’s how I respond today:

Advice Giver: “Can I make a suggestion?” 

Me: “Sure, but before you do, we need to agree on three things: 1. We may not see it the same way, 2. You may be wrong, and 3. I may not change anything based on your feedback.”

Here are some details behind the response:

1. “We may not see it the same way,”

It’s perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree. At times, there is no “right” way to do something. There are preferences a plenty, but a preference is not a principle. When there is a difference of preference that is not a difference of principle, then acknowledge the difference and agree to not agree.

Often a difference of preference, not principle, creates space for opposing perspectives and unsolicited advice.

2. “You may be wrong,”

We should first admit that a person’s suggestion might be good. It may also be “terrible” for a multitude of reasons. That said…

In most cases — not every case, but most — within the spectrum of our church I know more about the area of unsolicited advice than the unsolicited advice giver. Why? Because I eat, breathe, and sleep Woodstock City Church. Of course, that’s not always the case, but often it is. When I have additional knowledge about a topic than the advice giver, I kindly try to fill in the missing gaps in their perspective. Informing people of our strategy, our intentions, and our past experiences can help close gaps. Often times the missing information changes their perspective, and therefore their feedback.

But, when they do know something I don’t know (i.e. when they are correct), I openly acknowledge their insight and try to do something with their feedback.

One more note: We should listen to almost everybody’s feedback, solicited or not, because they might be right.

3. And “I may not change anything based on your feedback.”

Good, bad, or somewhere in-between, their feedback doesn’t necessitate I change anything. At times we do change based on feedback, at times the feedback giver changes, and at times nothing changes. Ultimately, I think it’s extremely helpful for advice givers to know that, while I will hear them out, I might not do anything differently.

So what do you think (I’m soliciting advice here, but at least it’s solicited!)? Yeah, I know, it’s a pretty blunt way to respond. But hey, if people are bluntly giving me unsolicited advice, I just assume they can handle a blunt response. And what I’ve found is this type of response has actually helped me avoid missing good advice and helped advise givers in the process.

Give it a try. That’s my unsolicited advice to you!

  7 Comments

  1. Luis Vicente   •  

    This is awesome! I am going through the first steps of a cancer treatment and I am getting a lot of “unsolicited advice”! From now on I will follow these three simple rules : 1- I may not see it the same way (but I’ll listen) 2- you may be wrong (or right) 3- I may not change anything based on your feedback (but I may)

    I loved this “unsolicited advice” on unsolicited advice!!

    I agree (unsolicited agreement ) that a difference in preference does not make it a difference in principle and we should listen. Somewhere out there is the best practice for you! It might be doing what you are currently doing and this advice only confirms it but it might not be what you are doing! We must listen!

    Thank you Robert Hinkelmann ! This came around at the right time ! Gods plan is so amazing!

    Thank you and God Bless ya”ll!
    Luis Vicente

  2. Scott Burson   •  

    One of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn. Lost my wife to cancer 6 years ago. Really had to learn to treat people with grace when they think they have the answer.

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      Wow. I can’t imagine how that lesson had to be learned. I’m sorry to hear about your wife.

  3. Greg Elder   •  

    Good points Gavin. The depth of the involvement by leadership often results in many tried and failed, tried and succeeded efforts over time. I would however offer one different perspective regarding why we should listen to advice givers…we should listen to them not because they might be right but because it values them as people. In addition to helping close information gaps and possibly change their perspective (assuming they want their perspective change – some just want to vent) it’s also a great opportunity to correct misinformation which, as you know, can be a dangerous “yeast” if not addressed. It’s better to have advice givers come to you than not, for when they don’t they are sharing their opinion with someone. As a leader one of the biggest frustrations is negative undercurrents and not being able to engage the ones spreading them. Finally, pastors DO NOT receive enough encouragement. Whether its because of a perceived personal issue or an assumed “that’s your job”, our pastors are humans with the same emotional needs as everyone else. Those offering advice should be offering twice as much encouragement. Just my advice………

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      Agree on all points, Greg. Thanks for leaving a comment!

  4. Cynthia   •  

    Gavin I can only imagine how many unsolicited suggestions you receive. I’ve been blessed to serve at Woodstock City since Watermark 2010 and I think you all do a fantastic job leading people to a closer relationship to our Lord. Thank you for sharing what must be difficult for you. When unsolicited advice is offered to me, I try to listen to connect to that person, without judgement or compiling my own answer while I’m supposed to be listening. What challenges me the most is to keep from climbing up my own ladder of conclusion about what I assume they are trying to tell me. I’m praying that you and your team continue following your model.

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      Thanks for the comment, Cynthia. And thank you even more for being a PART of our church for so many years! The best is still yet to come.

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