Ah, unsolicited advice… Specifically, unsolicited wedding advice. We've written about it many times before, with articles like why you should create a The “Shit People Suggest” spreadsheet.
But I recently read an article addressing the psychology behind unsolicited advice.
The article focused on a research paper titled “Advice Giving: A Subtle Pathway to Power,” which confirms what most of us have likely suspected: unsolicited advice is more for the benefit of the adviser than the advisee:
We propose that interpersonal behaviors can activate feelings of power, and we examine this idea in the context of advice giving. Specifically, we show (a) that advice giving is an interpersonal behavior that enhances individuals’ sense of power and (b) that those who seek power are motivated to engage in advice giving. Four studies, including two experiments (N = 290, N = 188), an organization-based field study (N = 94), and a negotiation simulation (N = 124), demonstrate that giving advice enhances the adviser’s sense of power because it gives the adviser perceived influence over others’ actions. Two of our studies further demonstrate that people with a high tendency to seek power are more likely to give advice than those with a low tendency. This research establishes advice giving as a subtle route to a sense of power, shows that the desire to feel powerful motivates advice giving, and highlights the dynamic interplay between power and advice.
The Quartz article notes, “This finding will likely come as less of a surprise to women, who — as earlier research has shown — are more likely to receive unsolicited advice than men.” This finding will come as even LESS of a surprise to women planning weddings. Since wedding planning has traditionally been seen as a feminine pursuit, this means that many of y'all are dealing with floods of unsolicited advice.
[Also, reality check: what does it say about me as a person that I've built a career out of giving advice?! I'll be discussing this with my therapist.]
This flood of unwanted advice can create an uncomfortable dynamic: you feel burdened by advice you didn't ask for, which you then feel beholden to act on in some way because if you don't, you're hurting the adviser by denying their power. Or maybe you're a brat (lord knows I was during my wedding planning!) and you push back because ain't no one going to take YOUR power!, which results in gritty dynamics where the adviser feels hurt (as far as they're concerned, they were just trying to help!) and while you feel empowered (it's MY wedding, damnit!), you might also feel a little closed-off and over-armored.
So if it's a power grab, what can you do?
Okay, so that's great that research supports that gut feeling that unsolicited advice-givers are really just looking for a sense of power. What can you do with that information?
Simply stated: once you know the adviser is in it for a sense of power, you can redirect your irritating/brattiness/negative reaction towards them into finding a more productive way for them to feel powerful. In other words, you take a win/lose situation and create a win/win.
Here's an example: your mom has a strong opinion about everything in your wedding. Your flowers are all wrong, the cake should really be like this, the dress needs to be longer/shorter/more white/whatever, you wanting to be walked down the aisle makes you a victim of the patriarchy (raise your hand if you have a second wave feminist mom! Just me?), etc etc etc. If you blow off her advice, you're denying her power. If you accept it all, you feel like you've lost YOUR power. Every wedding conversation feels like a battle, because you're wrestling over who gets to feel powerful.
The solution? Find a way to have you BOTH feel powerful. As your mom which issues she feels most strongly about, then pick which of her hot topics you care the least about, and then hand her the reins completely. Make sure you're explicit about it being completely her domain, and in exchange you ask that she respect that you get to have ownership over the other plans.
Then watch as she gets her sense of power by completely dominating the fuck out of the florist, while you're left to your own devices on the cake, the dress, and the aisle-walking plans. In this way, your advisor gets a sense of power, and so do you — with the added benefit of you having one less thing on your plate to deal with. (You DO have to do the work of completely releasing control of the thing you've delegated to your adviser… not saying that's easy, but I have faith in you!)
This is just one example, of course… the challenge here is in finding creative, productive ways to give your unsolicited advisers the sense of power they're seeking, while also ensuring you retain your own sense of agency over your wedding plans.
There are lots of ways to give people a sense of power. For small-time advice givers, it may give them what they're seeking to just say, “Ooh, great idea! I'll add that to my spreadsheet!”
For more invested advice-givers (the type-A bridesmaid who can't stop with @replies on Instagram, the amped-up genderqueer sibling who's been planning their imaginary wedding for years, the father of the bride who has a vision of the father/daughter dance that you don't want to have…), you'll have to get more creative in your power compromises.
If you need help coming up with power delegation ideas, let's crowdsource! Leave a comment, and let's see what we can figure out…