We’ve all sat across from someone who’s in a bind and ends a story with, “What do you think I should do?” This question is one of the most deceiving and complex questions that we often inquire of one another, yet, I’m confident most don’t actually think about what’s required to answer such a question.
When the question is directed to me, I often respond with:
“Do you want to know what I would do if I were you? Or, are you asking, what would I do in the situation?”
In the first case, they are asking for advice, while in the second, requesting perspective. There’s a massive difference between giving advice and sharing perspective.
Giving advice is when we attempt to project ourself as another person taking in to account the full experience of their lifetime, their assets, deficits and attempt to tell them (after an incredibly accelerated monte carlo simulation in our mind) what the next logical step is.
On the other hand, sharing perspective is when a person stays within their own mental model, understands their current situation and says what they would do in a situation.
When one actually attempts to grapple with what must be known to give advice, it’s amazing how confidently so many provide it. Moreover, it’s funny how arrogant it is for us to think we know what it’s like to be another person.
I try not to provide advice because of the fact that I think that it’s, as computer science would describe the problem, “NP hard” or in layman's terms, impossible to determine with any certainty in any reasonable amount of time.
Thankfully, we have options. We can help our friend in need by sharing perspective.
The key part of sharing perspective is helping the other person understand where you’re standing, and how you see the problem, so they can understand how their position differs. It’s important to state an advantage you may have or they may have which may allow them to act differently and achieve a similar outcome to you. It’s up to the listener to decide how to cohere your perspective in to their model. That process is where they learn, grow and, hopefully find their own solution.
So next time someone asks you this fateful question, take a deep breath, pause, and consider that it’s possible that you don’t have enough data to provide advice — but you’re more than able to speak about what you would do in the given situation.
I’m having a meta moment trying to understand if this note is advice or perspective. What do you think?