To inform the Wedding Planning 101 Series I am pulling from multiple sources: my own reflections, advice I have asked others for, advice I have been asked for, experiences shared with me by friends and family, etc.
Okay, okay, I’m just going to say it. Planning a large scale event for hundreds of your closest, most loved, [and potentially most opinionated] people in your life is such a beautiful, exciting, OVERWHELMING, EMOTIONAL, STRESSFUL task.
For this particular post I am breaching the hot-topic of unsolicited advice. Below are some thoughts on how to approach the particularly tough situation that may come up by employing what I like to call: mindful communication. This is when you take the time to actively listen, choose your words carefully, and employ some easy communication techniques to better the overall exchange. Stay with me, I promise I’ve broken it down into easy steps. Whether you are a bride-to-be, groom-to-be, in the bridal party, parent of the bride, friend of the bride, or wedding guest, it is my goal to spread this idea of mindful communication to take some of not-so-lovely parts of planning a wedding out of the equation.
Unsolicited Advice: Giving and Receiving
Here are the facts: humans LOVE weddings. I mean, LOVE. Most humans LOVE to share their own opinions. And, many humans love to give unsolicited advice. So to recap, that is:
weddings + opinions + unsolicited advice = (keep reading to find out)
Well as I am sure you guessed, it can often = hurt feelings, added stress, added pressure, and frustration on both ends of the exchange.
When receiving unsolicited advice I recommend the following three steps to help re-frame, re-group, and respond.
- Re-frame. Before jumping into the enticing and distracting head-space of: “oh my GOSH I cannot believe this person [at a family function, at work, in line at the grocery store] is giving me advice right now. WHY are they trying to plan my wedding?!” — try your best to re-frame your mind-set and listen. And I don’t mean the polite “listen” you give to the person on the flight next to you OR the act of “listening to respond.” I mean: actually listen to the human in front of you and store it in memory regardless of if you find it useful or not. The person sharing their advice may be trying to connect with you on a personal level and tell you about a similar experience they had. Approach the situation with a more open perspective of “this person isn’t trying to plan my wedding” but instead “this person is sharing their experience with me.”
- Re-group. Take a moment. If you know that certain topics are hot-button issues take a breath (I mean actually take a deep breath — it will help lower your heart rate), gather your thoughts, and construct a productive response that you won’t regret. We all have hot-button issues where our emotions fly and our word-choice [or tone] may not be the best representations of ourselves. Remember the power that words have (both good and bad) and the fact that once said, we can’t take them back.
- Respond, don’t react. Shout out to my amazing mental-health counselor for teaching me this one! Find a phrase that you feel comfortable saying that is still kind, yet doesn’t commit you to any idea, action, or opinion. Having a go-to phrase can filter any unproductive responses that might be swirling around in your head and can help diffuse the stress or pressure you might be experiencing in the moment. Something like “Hmmm, I haven’t thought of that before! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.” or “Interesting, I’m not sure that would be in line with our vision but I’m glad you shared!” Say it over and over again, as many times as you need.
Now, let’s flip the coin. When giving unsolicited advice I recommend the following three steps to help reflect, reconsider, and re-frame.
- Reflect. Is the person I am about to share this advice with confiding in me about an issue or challenge they are facing? Humans are fixers by nature. If someone shares with us that they are facing a challenge, it is our first reaction to want to immediately fix it for them. However, this isn’t always the most productive way to help. If the person you are speaking to is already in a heightened state of stress, adding your opinion on top of it without being asked to do so can actually exacerbate the stress that person is feeling. Instead, take a moment to listen (hint hint reread my definition above of actually listening). Then ask the person: “That sounds really stressful, would you like some advice?” They may say “no thank you,” and that is okay. Kindly remind them that you are happy to share your thoughts if they ever would like to talk. And leave it at that.
- Reconsider. Try your best to empathize in this situation. Think about a time you have been super stressed about a topic and someone has interjected their opinion or advice with you asking for it. How did you feel? Because we are all humans with emotions, the person who is not open to receiving advice can in turn become defensive — they’re not ready to receive the advice. And, in turn, the person giving the advice may see the exchange as sharing a part of their own experiences. When not received well, they may end up feeling rejected. To avoid this all together, reconsider giving advice when you have not been directly asked for it. (side note: it is going to be hard to change this habit. But, it’s worth it.)
- Re-frame. If after you reflect and reconsider, you decide that you still would like to share your unprompted advice, I highly recommend looking at your word choice. Try to take any strongly opinionated words or phrases out of the mix; avoid language that places blame or obligation like “should.” Not sure what I mean?
- Instead of saying “You should really think about [blank],” try saying “I know you are concerned about [blank], have you considered [blank]?”
- Instead of saying “I would never tell you what to do, but I think…” try saying “It seems like [blank] is causing a lot of stress, would you be open to looking more into [blank] as a solution?”
- Instead of saying “This is how you should be doing [blank].” try saying “I had a similar experience, if you’re open to it, I would be happy to help with [blank].”
Whew! This was a long post, I know. But this topic is powerful. AND it’s not just for those who are planning a wedding. Unsolicited advice, regardless of the situation, has the ability to quickly cause resentment and hurt feelings. This is something we all can work on (myself included).
Photo credit: Branches Wedding Co.