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Embracing unsolicited advice could help your workforce

If you ask your colleagues if they have ever received unsolicited advice, they will surely have an anecdote or two to tell. When people receive unsolicited advice, it tends to raise further questions: Does this person really want to help me, or are they offering advice for another reason entirely?

Sometimes the impact of advice can be weakened by the perception that colleagues are offering advice not out of genuine interest in helping us make better decisions, but because it seems they want to show off, take control of the situation, or another self-serving reason altogether.

These complex motivations for offering advice is what makes the distinction between unsolicited and solicited advice so interesting in the workplace. I define unsolicited advice in organisations as work-related information containing guidance or recommendations that the recipient did not request.

More on advice sharing in the workplace:

Toxic positivity in the pandemic

How to make ideas happen by inspiring your team

HR's role in organisational creativity and innovation

My research How Employees React to Unsolicited and Solicited Advice in the Workplace: Implications for Using Advice, Learning, and Performance, looked into an organisational network study of the effects of unsolicited and solicited advice.

The goal was to not only identify receptiveness but to capture the necessary understanding of the reaction to unsolicited advice, so that we can identify the best practice to help companies embrace it rather than reject it.

Employees are often reluctant to ask for advice, with fears that it may show their lack of knowledge in a subject area and create a negative perception of them to their boss or colleagues. However, advice sharing, if done in the right way, is key for productivity and creating a culture where colleagues can help each other out and share their expertise.

There is no one size fits all solution for all work challenges. It’s crucial that teams feel they can rely on each other for advice and know that it won’t be received in a self-serving manner.

Unsolicited advice provides the opportunity for employees to realise the benefit of the advice without needing to ask for it. However, it isn’t that straightforward due to our inherent scepticism of the advisor’s motives. To help shift this perception, leaders and HR teams can work to create a culture where knowledge sharing and asking for advice is encouraged.

I have three top tips on how HR can boost the advice support network in their workplace and ultimately create a culture of open sharing and encouragement.

Firstly, teams should foster the right environment. Working online can make it even more challenging to ask for advice as we don’t have the daily interactions in the office, and it can be difficult to judge people’s receptiveness.

In this case it’s vital that you have open lines of communications for employees to reach out to each other, and check-ins with teams to help offer a space where information and advice can be shared.

Second, it’s important that HR lead by example. Simply telling your employees that it is okay to ask for advice or help is not going to be enough for some to feel they can open up.

Some employees may want to offer advice, but are unsure if it is appropriate to do so or how it will be received. Therefore, leaders and senior management need to lead by example and offer their own anecdotes of how others’ advice helped them to solve a problem, or make sure they recognise those who helped and proactively offered advice to help overcome business challenges.

And finally, you need to think about your approach. If you are someone who has advice to offer, make your intentions known from the start. It may seem simple but if you want to provide advice because the scenario is something you have dealt with before or you have specific knowledge in that area, then let the other person know.

Provide a knowledge preview so they can see your expertise and will in turn be more receptive to the advice.

By taking these first steps to create a culture where unsolicited advice is embraced, I believe HR leaders and organisations as a whole will benefit greatly.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it has shown the power of teamwork and people coming together to share advice and support and this should extend to all aspects of our lives including our new normal in the workplace.

Blaine Landis is faculty member of the UCL MBA.


This piece first appeared in the January/February 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.


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