Stop Giving Women Advice - Fighting the Toxic Effects of Unsolicited Advice on Women’s Leadership by Sarah Glova

Automatic Summary

Understanding the Impact of Unsolicited Advice on Women Leaders

In this post, we will be looking at how unsolicited advice can negatively affect women in leadership roles. As a CEO and tech writer with extensive experience, I have observed how this less acknowledged cultural element may have a toxic effect on women striving to achieve their professional goals.

My Journey as a Leader and Speaker

Hello, I'm Sarah Glover, the CEO of a company called RE I Media. I've been in business for over a decade now, and as a tech writer, my passion lies in speaking at various events and conferences. One such memorable speaking event was held in Doha, which, to date, is the furthest I've ever traveled for work.

In the midst of these career highs, I recall struggling with my perception of self-worth and confidence. A considerable part of this personal struggle was tied to the chronic advice I was receiving from others. Let's take a closer look at how unsolicited advice often creates unintended mental stresses.

Untangling the Web of Unsolicited Advice

Unsolicited advice, more often than not, leaves us feeling confused, frustrated, or even irritated. Imagine walking into your favorite coffee shop only to have someone you hardly know rush up to you, tell you what to order, and then abruptly leave. As bizarre as this might sound, this is often what unsolicited advice feels like.

Various studies have shown that the act of giving advice often evokes a sense of power and influence in the one who offers it. This is true even when the advice is not taken. In the workplace, many employees perceive that giving advice benefits the advice giver more than it does the recipient. Further research indicates that unsolicited advice can often be perceived as a judgment or even cause heightened stress levels.

Women, Advice, and the Impact on Confidence

When advice is offered without solicitation, we often perceive it as a threat to our autonomy. This impacts, quite dramatically, our confidence levels. Almost as if we are hardwired to react to any encroachment on our personal freedoms, we sometimes respond to unsolicited advice by doing the exact opposite of what has been proposed.

Interesting research reveals that men are more likely to offer unsolicited advice to women than women are to men. Similarly, women often receive more advice from their female counterparts than men do from other men. This has an added implication that women are not only receiving more advice, but they are also receiving it from a greater variety of sources.

How to Deal with Unsolicited Advice

To develop an active and intentional relationship with advice, you must first begin by observing the instances where advice is given and received in your daily interactions. Secondly, reflect on the advice you have received in the past and analyse how useful or true it turned out to be.

Most importantly, take charge. Before doling out advice, ensure to verify whether your interlocutor actually wants any. If they do, try to boost their confidence instead of immediately giving advice. Remember to always remain respectful of one's autonomy.

By comprehending the dynamics of advice in our society, women in leadership can take effective steps towards managing the effects of advice on their professional and personal growth.

Video Transcription

So I mentioned, we're gonna talk about, you know, stop giving women advice from a women's leadership perspective. We're gonna look at how unsolicited advice can have a negative effect or what I even call a toxic effect on women in leadership.So I don't want to do that as a stranger. So the first thing I'll do is just say hello, I'm Sarah Glover. I am the CEO of a company called RE I Media. I've been in business for over 10 years, which is insane. It happened in five minutes and it was forever at the same time. Uh I also um I speak, this is actually a picture here on the screen of me speaking in Doha Tar, which was uh the furthest I've traveled to speak. I've been speaking for years and years. I love it. And I also, I'm a tech writer. So I write about tech for an organization called WRL Tech Wire. Now, the reason I chose this picture is because I mentioned um I was speaking in Doha. It was an incredible experience. I should have been on top of the world. This was a couple years into me having my own business at that time, it was profitable enough for me to be doing it on my own. I had left my full time position. I was doing it on my own. I'd even hired and grown my team. I was traveling um internationally to speak. I should have been on top of the world, the most confident uh person.

And I was not, um I was not, I was really struggling at this time and we're gonna get into why and what I was experiencing here in a little bit. But before I do, I thought we could do a quick visualization together so that we could all get in the mindset of advice and to do that, I'm gonna ask you to go on a trip with me. So if you will, will you please come meet me at a coffee shop. I'd love for you to come meet me at a coffee shop. We're gonna do a quick visualization. Just imagine that you and I were in the same time zone. We're in the same location we're gonna meet at this adorable coffee shop. And I really want you to visualize for a second. So you're walking toward it, you're getting close, you can kind of smell that roasted coffee aroma. You can hear the chatter of the people in the coffee shop. It sounds like a really fun place. Not too busy. Um You're getting closer to it and you're starting to think about what you're gonna order. And then I want you to imagine that you walk in the door, you kind of push the door open, you take a step in and before you're even all the way inside, someone comes running over to you and they say I know what you should order.

You have to get the vanilla latte. It's the best one I've ever had. And then before you get a chance to say anything, they turn and walk away. So I want you to think for a second how you would feel in that moment. Maybe a little confused like you didn't know this person. Uh maybe a little frustrated like they don't know if you drink coffee. Uh Maybe this coffee bar also serves wine like maybe you wanted, maybe you were in the mood for a smoothie like who knows? What are, what are you feeling? Um Yeah, a little wtf moment from Jackie. I love that. So next, I want you to imagine that this happens to you every time you go to this coffee shop. So every time you go to this coffee shop, as soon as you walk in, somebody from, from out on the side, some somebody from behind the counter, an employee of a patron, always somebody you don't know who doesn't know you, they don't ask you any questions but they tell you right away what you should order.

I want you to think about how you would feel about this coffee shop. Does it change the way that you feel about the coffee shop? You know, I put this picture up a minute ago and we were, we were gonna go visit there together. How do you feel? Ok, so, oh no, you don't want to keep going there. Now, let's imagine, you know, this has happened to you and you've decided you don't want to go to this coffee shop anymore, but somebody who's really important to you has asked you to meet there. So you have to go back. How do you feel as you're walking through the parking lot? Knowing that when you walk through that door, that's gonna happen. What's, what's that feeling that you have? Oh, I'm seeing some, I'm just reading through hesitation. Oh, disgusted and disturbed.

Wow, you, y'all are good writers uncomfortable. Absolutely. Irritation. Yeah, a little bit of irritation. Annoyed. These are great, great descriptions. Ok. So I, I agree with you. That's how I would feel if I knew that when I was going to get on the other side of that door, that that was gonna happen to me. I would have all of those emotions. What I would like to try to discuss with you today is the fact that advice, culture is creating those emotions in our workplaces in our homes. Um in places where we spend time for our hobbies, people are starting to experience some of those emotions because of how much unsolicited advice we're all giving and receiving what I'm gonna hope to show you today by sharing some research is that advice is not neutral. It's not just something like, oh, we're gonna give some advice. It's also not necessarily a gift that we're gonna be giving all the time. Advice can have a really negative effect. And too much advice can change the way that we feel about something that was relatively enjoyable, like a coffee shop or something that we feel pretty confident in like a workplace.

So let's dive into some of the research and you and I can decide together if we think that this is, this is true. The first thing that I found when I started researching advice is this really interesting study that came out of a bunch of research universities in 2018. And this study showed that when someone offers advice, they get a sense of power and a sense of influence over others. Even if that advice is not taken, the simple act of giving advice makes a person feel a sense of power and a sense of influence over others. Even if that advice is not taken, I remember reading this and thinking that was so interesting that I had, I had kind of sensed that I was feeling that certainly in a lot of my relationship dynamics. But this was the first time that I had really seen someone study it and say, oh yeah, just giving advice. Even if that advice isn't taken give someone that sense of power and influence. The next study that I found looked at the power structures at play specifically in the workplace.

And this study which was done really recently found that in the workplace, many employees perceive that giving advice benefits the person who's giving that advice more than it benefits the person who's receiving that advice. So in plain speak, these employees were saying, hey, you person who's giving out advice that's actually helping you more than it's helping me having to listen to it. Uh Just a really interesting study as we think about workplace power dynamics, as we add in this advice filter.

I also started to come across some studies that helped me to understand, wow, when we receive advice, we don't receive it like any other kind of con conversation or communication, we have some pretty high emotions. I love being able to give a talk and use the phrase butting in. But it came up in this research study and this one was done a while ago, but it found that unsolicited advice was often perceived as a judgment and it was perceived as when someone gave you unsolicited advice that they were butting in just by offering that advice without being asked.

There was another study that found the effects could be even more serious rather than just feeling judged. A person may actually feel stressed. This study went so far as to call it a psychosomatic stress response that receiving unsolicited advice can cause heightened stress, emotions and all of the negative things that are associated when we experience stress, that we can get that just from unsolicited advice. Now, this is the, the last 10, no, this is the second to last one. This one's interesting. I've talked about unsolicited advice so far, but I don't want solicited advice to get off so easy either. This study showed simply asking for advice. So when you solicit advice from others, it can actually lower your confidence. Simply having to ask for advice, can lower your confidence again. Just trying to prove here that advice is not n not neutral. So the last one I'll share with you and this one is the most complicated, but it's the last one, there's this theory in psychology called the theory of Reactant. And it basically says if you do something to restrict my freedom, even if that something is good for me, or it doesn't really affect me. If it restricts my freedom, I'm gonna try to do whatever I can to get that freedom back.

So let's say, for example, that, you know, I go into a new building and you say, oh, you, you have to walk on the right side of the building, don't walk over here. There is a theory in psychology that says we might do something to try to get our freedoms back. We might, you know, maybe we're a daredevil and we walk on the left side. If you're a rule follower like me, it's like, ok, I'll walk on this side, but I'm gonna walk really fast. It's just an interesting thing about our brains that if our freedoms are restricted, we might act in a way to get them back, get those freedoms back. Now, here's how this relates to advice. If someone gives you unsolicited advice that causes you to feel that reactance, like someone is restricting my freedoms by telling me what coffee I should get at this coffee shop. For example, that we're gonna have such a a reactant response that we might do the opposite of what the person tells us to do. So if somebody gives you unsolicited advice that your body, brain psychology interprets as restricting your freedoms, you might do the opposite just to get your freedom back even if the advice was actually good. So I mentioned this is the last study I'll share.

But I, I hoped in quickly sharing these studies that we would agree together like wow, advice is not neutral and it maybe has more of an effect on us than we originally thought. Now that brings me back to um that picture that I was sharing earlier when I said, um I was really struggling. So that picture that I shared of me in Doha. At the beginning of this presentation, I was reacting to advice. At that point, I had reached a successful level in my business and in my speaking career, which was really important to me. And yet everywhere I turned every networking event I went to every conference I went to, I felt like I was being bombarded with advice. I felt like it was constant. Now, at the time of that picture, I hadn't really considered it, but my brain was just on overload rather than relying on my own intuition or feeling confident. I was in hyperdrive just overstimulated with advice. It was also a really interesting time for me personally, I had just had a baby and anyone who's been pregnant knows you will get so much unsolicited advice about your body during pregnancy. And after about how to take care of your baby, I was feeling at that time like I couldn't do anything, right? Every decision was so weighed down. And now that I've researched advice, I really understand what I was going through.

I want you to think about that feeling and how you felt that in your life. Now, you might not have the same experience as me and we'll talk about that. Maybe you're somebody who advice doesn't affect you as much. But this idea that your brain might be reacting to advice, like it's a threat. I want you to think about what happens when somebody is threatened. Um Like if somebody kind of jumped out of a corner right now at you and said, boo, how would you react? Would, would your hands get clammy. Would your stomach get tight? Would you breathe fast? Maybe your heart is beating faster. The research that we just looked at together shows that advice can cause that stress response or that threat response. If that's true, then I think women who get a lot of advice, which we'll talk about in a second are likely experiencing those side effects of stress and threats in the workplace. And as women become leaders. And as I experienced when I became a successful entrepreneur, we receive even more advice and I think even more scrutiny and unsolicited advice which may elicit more of these threat responses. Now I'm happy to share that the girl in that picture has a happy ending. Um I started doing this advice and uh this advice research and I learned, wow, advice is not neutral. One and two. I think it's been having a really negative effect on me as an entrepreneur. I've been taking in so much advice.

I need to get back to my values. Make sure that I'm leaning on a trusted board of advisors and personal board of advisors and find ways to tune out all this advice that I'm receiving. And I want to emphasize some of the advice that I was receiving was good. It's not about just dividing good advice and bad advice. Sometimes even if it's good advice, that judgment or stress of being you know, told to do something when you're trying your hardest already, even if it's good advice, it may not be helpful to hear in that moment. Um Helpful metaphor is, you know, when my son asks for help on a math question, I know I might know the right answer, but it doesn't help him to just give him the answer to sit with him and boost his confidence and ask how he's worked, worked through the problem. Uh That's a much better response. So even though we talk about advice, like it's a gift and it can be helpful, it might not help and sometimes it can do more harm than good. Now, another point that I want to make is again, you might be experiencing this different than me. You might even think like, wow, Sarah, you are really sensitive to advice. That is something that clearly affects you. But hey, somebody tells me what to do.

I just brush it off and I keep going about my way. If so, that is awesome. You're my idol. I love people who have that kind of self-confidence. That is, that is so great. Um I also want to invite you to consider, you know, how others in your life may be experiencing advice. So maybe if you're already a leader or you're a mentor or you have family members who are younger, whatever it is, you may have relationships with people in your life. And it might be interesting to know that they experience advice differently than you do. They might experience it as somebody judging them or they might feel threatened or stressed. And if so the next time you have a conversation, it's interesting to observe how quickly you want to give someone advice. And then the other options that you have to stay curious and ask more questions or to really lean into listening and asking the person, you can even say, would you like some advice about that or are you just hoping to have a sounding board? So something to consider I do since this is a women in tech conference, I want to lean into a couple of studies that I found that showed why we have to talk about this for women. And this will be really brief.

But I want you to take away as well that men may be more likely to offer unsolicited advice to women than women are to recommend it to men. So men might be more likely to offer advice to women than women are to recommend things to men. But women give women more advice than men, give men advice, which means that women are receiving a lot of advice and we're not just receiving more advice, we're receiving it from more places. So I found this really interesting study. It's an older study, but it was this University of Pennsylvania researcher who looked at uh discussions between students in a co ed dorm for about three months. She was searching for tokens of advice and found that the male students gave advice to the female students 25% of the time, while the female students only gave advice to the male students about 5% of the time. So that matches what we just discussed. But there were three ras or resident advisors in that building that she studied and she found evidence of the male students. These were first year students giving advice to the staff graduate student, resident advisor. There were only examples of the male students doing this.

She did not find examples of the female students doing this. There's a more recent study that showed there's something called upward advice transmission. It's when kids give advice to their parents, these researchers at Harvard found recently that that upward advice transmission with kids give advice to parents is usually unsolicited which no surprise parents aren't asking for this advice, but kids are giving it overwhelmingly, moms were receiving more advice than dads.

So not only are women receiving more advice in general, but often we're receiving it from people who are maybe junior to us in age or in status or employment title. So a really interesting thing to consider as we consider our relationship with advice, the fact that when we receive advice, we may be experiencing it as a threat or as a stress, we're likely receiving it from all angles in our lives. So what I hope you'll do with this information is to explore your experiences with giving and receiving advice. It took me way too long to realize that I did not have a good relationship with advice. I was receiving advice and because I was so hungry to do well, I was listening to a lot of people tell me to do a lot of things and it really shifted my perception of what I was as a business owner. What I wanted to be. Luckily I started to realize it. I began researching it. And now when I am hearing advice, I'm able to put up a little bit of a filter and make sure that it's advice that I care to hear or want to hear or wanna internalize before I do. So. I'm also much more careful to give advice. If I have somebody come to me for advice, I remember that study that says the act of soliciting advice, lower someone's confidence. That's right. So if that's true, my first thing is not to answer their question and give advice.

Sometimes it's to boost their confidence. Ask, you know, what, what have you done to work on this problem already? What are some ideas you have? Um You know, why, why is this important? Let's talk about it more that way. I'm boosting that person's confidence before giving advice.

Now, some exercises you can do one, observe advice in your life. Just start paying attention to how quickly in conversations people tell each other what to do. It's fascinating. You'll see it everywhere to spend some time reflecting on advice you've received. What's some advice you've received that you maybe take to be true or helpful, that might not be true or might not be serving you anymore. And then finally take charge, have a more active and intentional role in both giving and receiving advice. Now, if you like this topic at all, if you think this kind of professional development, leadership, confidence conversation is interesting. I hope you'll stay connected with me. You can go to my website Sarah And if you go to Sarah Glo slash 821 you can sign up for my newsletter. I send it twice a month and each one can be read in three minutes or less, which is such a gift. Uh And I go over these kinds of topics, especially confidence. Um I have, I think only 30 more seconds, but I am so glad that you all could be here today. And if you have any questions for me, I'm happy to hang around and answer them. Thanks for being here.