We hear this question often. Someone tells us a story, giving us facts together with their opinion. Followed by “What do you think?” We immediately respond with our opinion. Wanting to be helpful or nice. Sometimes asking a follow up question for clarification.
Our responses typically are quick. Filled with certainty. Wanting to be helpful in the moment. But again, there are many things we need to consider.
The most hidden yet important dynamic, none of us ever consider, is that knowledge is asymmetric. It is never evenly distributed. Never. What do I mean by this? While we may know and understand a small range of things, there is much in the world where we don’t have any deep knowledge or experience. The same holds true for others.
This is important to consider from both sides. When we ask someone what they think, we most likely will leave out some details during our short explanation of our situation. So we most likely know more about our situation than someone else. Putting them at a disadvantage in two ways: you might know more at this point and/or they know little about the type of situation you describe. (In a group setting, there most likely is even a higher degree of uneven distribution of knowledge. Part of the purpose of group discussions is to help distribute knowledge to increase the potential for others to contribute meaningfully when solving problems.)
If you are the person who must answer the question “What do you think?”, we are left with only two choices: sound knowledgeable when in fact all we can share is our opinion, or to respond that we don’t have the experience or knowledge to answer the question. Where we have deep knowledge or experience with a situation someone else is facing, is where our answer can be most helpful.
If knowledge is unevenly distributed, then what are we to do? No matter if we are looking for confirmation, consoling or ideas in how to proceed, the challenge is still the same. Who we ask now becomes more important for their answers will differ radically depending on their knowledge and experience with similar situations. Always try to seek others who seem smarter than you are & have enjoyed many more life experiences than you have. This improves the chances that their answers to your question will be more helpful. The more similar to you the person you ask is, there is a much greater probability that their answer will simply be an opinion.
In choosing how to answer this question, a great deal of responsibility falls on you. By declaring up front that you can help because of your experience or knowledge or you must simply answer “I have no opinion”. By itself, this seems too cold a response. How else could you answer this question? By sharing with them the process you would go through to work towards a solution. A process that you have used in the past that works. Outlining steps they could take to both acquire knowledge and discover options.
Your right. Nothing is as quick as we would like. Thinking about the uneven distribution of knowledge around you, can help you navigate your life better. Because either who we ask or how we respond is important for us to think about before we proceed. It’s possible, that this could make all the difference in the world in what outcomes you enjoy or miss. For both are always possible.
While reminding us that there is always more to learn, no matter how much we think we know. For knowledge is always unevenly distributed.