You should tell them that!
Err on the side of taking action in the real world to get more information rather than running simulations indefinitely in your head.
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash
In situations where someone is discussing a bit of a conundrum with me involving other people, looking for advice or ideas for a solution, I often find myself saying “You should tell them that!”.
This happens surprisingly often in quandaries involving a surprisingly varied set of scenarios: interactions with advisors or managers, friends, businesses, colleagues, mentors, etc.
Person A: “Our current project is winding down, and I think they are discussing plans for the next project. It is hard for me to stay excited about this role not knowing what the next project is going to be.”
Me: “You should tell them that! You can tell your manager that if it is feasible, you’d be interested in being a part of these planning discussions. You can tell them that this will make it easier for you to feel some ownership of the project and be excited about it.”
Person A: “That makes a lot of sense. I had considered it, but I was worried that since I only joined 6 months ago, it might seem like I am overstepping.”
Me: “You should tell them that! You can tell your manager that you are aware that you are new on the team, but figured it might be better for you to be transparent rather than risk not being sufficiently motivated by the next project.”
Person B: “We made a reservation for a table for 16 for 7:00 pm. But now Jack and Jill can’t make it till 7:30 pm. When I had called the restaurant to make the reservation it had sounded like they are pretty strict about the entire party being there before they seat us. Should we push everyone back to 7:30? But then I know Qi and Lin had to leave by 9:00 pm. So it might be too tight…”
Me: “You should tell them that! You can tell the restaurant that this is the situation, and ask them what they recommend.”
[Turned out, the restaurant was more accommodating than expected, given how large the group was, and were fine with two people joining the table a bit later.]
Person C: “We told Aarti and Ashish we would meet them for breakfast tomorrow. But I am exhausted from the week and would rather sleep in tomorrow morning. What should we do?”
Me: “You should tell them that! That you know this is last minute and you’re sorry, but you are exhausted and would really like to sleep in tomorrow. We can ask them if they are open to a brunch later in the morning.”
Person D: “I don’t know if they have X or Y. If it is X then A might be better but if it is Y, then A could be pretty bad. So maybe I should do B which is mediocre for both X and Y.”
Me: “Can you just ask them if they have X or Y?”
Person E: “I don’t know if they used the same hyperparameters for all datasets. When I tried A, it gave me B, so chances are they did C. Because if they did D, it would have been E.”
Me: “Can you just ask them if they used the same hyperparameters? If they don’t reply, that’s no worse than your current situation anyway.”
Person F: “I got lonely in my apartment during the pandemic so I’ve moved in with a friend for a few months. I really think apartment complexes should allow us to sublease in these unusual times.”
Me: “Have you considered writing to them and asking or even suggesting this? Worst case they’ll say no.”
I find that people often think of the “other side” they are interacting with as a black box, as opposed to actual humans you can communicate fairly nuanced thoughts to, who have likely been on both “sides” of this situation at different points in time and can likely relate, who also experience many of the same emotions you do (excitement, lack of motivation, confusion, hesitation, insecurity, etc.), and who more often than not, are quite reasonable.
I find that just telling them what you’re thinking solves 80% of the situations in a way that makes you realize it wasn’t as much of a problem to begin with. Other benefits in situations with repeated interactions (e.g., with your manager) are that it gives you practice to speak up and be transparent and vulnerable, it builds trust and a stronger connection with the other person, and everyone is on the same page so there are significantly fewer chances of misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Of course, this is not guaranteed to work. But in most cases, the downside of trying is quite low. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll think you’re a bit odd for being this transparent? They’ll say no or nothing will come of it? If you don’t tell them, it is guaranteed that nothing will come of it. The upside is typically much larger. Plus, you save a lot of time and energy thinking about multiple levels of hypotheticals. In cases that involve repeated interactions, it might not work out this time, but the other person might keep this in mind for the future.
In general, err on the side of taking action in the real world to get more information or influence change (however small), rather than running simulations indefinitely in your own head. Not only will you increase the probability of a desirable outcome, but you’ll also build better models of the world. What else is life for? :)