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A Much Better Way to Respond to Unsolicited Advice

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 advice givers in the process.

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

This article originally appeared here.