What should I do?

Sometimes, someone comes to you, asking for advice regarding a choice to make. It’s either option A or option B. « What is the right decision? », you’re being asked.

You start to dig, you discover the pros and cons of each option. You rephrase them with your own words, to make sure you understood them correctly. You throw a couple of alternatives, to see if there might be an easy compromise to be found, that would keep most of the pros and kill most of the cons. The feedback you get is clear: none of those alternatives would be adequate. It’s either A or B.

You dig a bit deeper, down each path. You explore the consequences of the first option, by asking more questions. « And if that happened, how would you feel about it? » Then you explore the second option, to get to the bottom of this decision, to find the hidden problem that wasn’t sufaced initially.

The more you learn, the more you start to think: « There’s no right or wrong decision. Both options seem quite valid. » Actually, would you be in such a position, you already know what option you would choose. But that’s very personal. By no means it discards the other option – it’s just a personal preference, based on unconscious criterias that you don’t even bother paying attention to.

So you end up saying: « It’s really up to you. » You see in the face in front of you a hint of disappointment. Yes, you’ve helped. By helping the person hear arguments in someone else’s mouth, by removing unnecessary parameters from the equation, by revealing the real problem behind the initial dilemma, you’ve helped.

You’ve helped, and yet, when you leave the person, you feel you could have helped more. You’re pretty sure that sharing your personal take on the topic what not the solution. Or maybe it was?

No, it was not. At least, not by stating your own position and leaving it at that. However, being able to reverse-engineer your strong feeling about the question, to the point of surfacing the main criteria that makes one option look way better than the other one. Now that would have helped. Even better: listing other criterias, and pulling the thread for each one. « If you care a lot about that dimension and that dimension, then it’s quite obvious that you should go for option B. Same thing if you value this one over that one. »

Why is that more helpful? Because the question has shifted. The decision to be made doesn’t refer to a specific situation anymore – it refers to who the person is. It still is a open-ended question, and it probably requires more thinking than the initial one. But the long-term benefit is worth it. Once you’ve answered questions like « Who are you? », questions like « What should I do? » don’t pop up as often.

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