Monday, November 12, 2012

Guiding Others to Make Good Decisions

Ever struggle with what to say when someone you care about is making a tough decision? Especially when they come to you for advice?

There’s a fine line between telling another person what to do and guiding them to decide for themselves. Whether it’s an employee, a coworker, friend, or family member, it’s usually a good idea to ask questions that cause them to think through the process and arrive at their own conclusions.

That’s what my husband Lee and I tried to do when our daughter Alison was selecting the colleges she’d apply to.

She took the initiative to go out and buy a huge, thick book that included what appeared to be every college in the world. But I think it was just North America.

She got a stack of post-it notes and marked each college that initially interested her. Next she started reviewing the schools more closely, narrowing the list. And then she started talking with us about her top picks (which still numbered in the dozens).

Alison knew we were planning to pay her college tuition, but we had not discussed any limitations at this point. We wanted to see where her exploration took her before defining too many ground rules.

But we were ready to speak up if her options took her very far afield from our own ideas.

It turns out, that didn't take very long.

For instance, when she spoke enthusiastically about the programs at a university in Missouri (we live in Virginia), we listened. And then we decided on rule #1:

The school had to be located close enough that she wouldn't need to get on a plane to come home on breaks. Or at least we weren't going to pay for air travel as part of the deal.

She quickly shifted her attention to schools in the mid-Atlantic area.

Then there was talk of attending schools in big urban areas like New York. She thought living in the city would be cool. When we learned what the out-of-state tuition rates were at these schools, we established rule #2:

We were willing to chip in the equivalent of the in-state tuition rate. If she chose to attend a school outside of Virginia, she would need to figure out how to pay the difference.

Suddenly, the schools in Virginia started looking attractive and became the focus of her search.

She finally settled on two – University of Virginia and James Madison University. We visited both campuses with her and discussed the pro’s and con’s of each school on the trip home. And then we left the decision up to her.

She applied to both and got accepted early to UVA, attended there all 4 years and received an outstanding education.

Alison learned a lot during that decision-making process. At various points along the way, she had to figure out how badly she wanted to go to a school that would require her to go into debt or earn money beyond what we were willing to contribute.

It worked well to give her time and space to think about a particular rule and evaluate her next steps.

So when you are approached about – or you sense that you need to be involved in – a decision someone else needs to make, stop and ask yourself, “What’s the best way I can respond that will help him/her think this through and choose wisely?”

“A mediocre person tells. A good person explains. A superior person demonstrates. A great person inspires others to see for themselves.” - Harvey Mackay, American author (1933- ) 


  1. Thanks for this post. Great advice!

  2. What a fabulous and wise posting :)) THX

    1. Thanks, Gisela! I appreciate your positive feedback. I learned a lot myself from that experience that I've applied in other situations since then.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.