I have a canned response I have used for years when someone talks to me about a challenge they’re having, and I’m in some sort of “position of power” relative to them in terms of some role I have (boss at work, director, organization president, mother, etc).

“Are you venting, looking for advice, or hoping for some intervention?”

This framing helps me understand if they have any specific but as of yet unstated expectations of me. I started doing this after missing cues and failing to meet those expectations thousands of time. Now mind you, I don’t _always_ act according to their expectations, but knowing what they are certainly helps me make an informed decision.

In the past few years, I have also been learning the importance of making space for people to work things out for themselves more. Even when they ask for advice, I might first respond with an open ended question, like “What’s feeling stuck?” or “What would perfect look like?” and keep them talking and exploring more. I don’t want to discourage them coming to me, and I certainly do want to share any tips and tricks I’ve picked up if they can be helpful. But through my own experience, I’ve learned the importance of trying and learning, even when someone has an easy answer that I could build off of. It’s a calculated investment to make, or to recognize as having some benefit when it happens in the wild.

So to the three options above, I’ve now added a fourth in:

“Are you venting, looking for advice, hoping for some intervention, or do you want space to work it out yourself?”

And I still plan to default to giving space to figure it out first in most cases, no matter what they respond.

Come to think of it, when I’m the one talking about my own challenges, maybe I’ll also lead with my preferred flavor of these.