# 20 on my, 99 Life Tips – A List is: When asked for advice, rather than giving the inquirer a solution to their problem, give him a new way to think about his problem.
The corollary to this tip is, Do Not Give Advice Unless Asked. Unsolicited advice makes the adviser feel good about himself but seldom gives any assistance to the hearer, since they were not in the market for it. I am most successful wearing my sage hat when I wait to be asked before indiscriminately imparting the profundity of my wisdom. Especially when I preface my own advice by tying to provide a new way to think about the problem. This seems to be better than the standard, ”Well, if I was in your shoes…” approach.
There is a fancy word for problem solving systems. The word is heuristic(s). We all employ them. Some methodologies are more useful than others. Some mental shortcuts are more harmful than helpful, being little more than thinly veiled cognitive biases. I have written before about a particular bias called the Availability Heuristic. Regardless of your particular way of solving problems, here is a variation of quote attributed to Einstein:
”One will never solve a problem by thinking in the same plain in which the problem was conceived.”
Or put more simply, this:
In order to give someone a new way to think about a problem, you must first determine how they are currently thinking about it. Ask questions, get responses. Keep probing. Often, this process is helpful in itself. Allowing a person to think through and voice their own views may uncover areas of speculation, or error, or confusion.
Taking this approach provides the chance at self-discovery for the one with the problem. And I wish I had a dollar for every time some entrenched internal narrative has been the crux of the matter anyway. Poor thinking in will always equal poor thinking out. Your job is to help change the thinking patterns.
Oftentimes we can’t see the solutions to our problems because we’re just too close to them. Our vision is obscured the way a person’s vision of the sun is blocked if he holds his hand too close to his eyes. Rationality diminishes in direct proportion to the engagement the emotions. Throw in stress, and cognitive function rapidly diminishes.
This is why finding a new way to think about the problem often requires a sympathetic, objective adviser. That’s you. If you can resist providing a quick fix long enough to be an empathetic sounding board, you might give the other person not only your solution for this one problem, but a new way to approach all future problems as well.