The Answer


I often receive requests from readers for advice on interpersonal problems they are having.

Though I’ve never attempted to present myself as the Dear Abby of the personal development genre, perhaps because I teach “people skills” they figure I might have the answer.

Actually, that makes sense. The biggest challenge, however, is incomplete information, both because I’m exposed to only one side of the issue and it’s difficult in one email for them to provide me with the complete context.

Earlier this year I received a question from a reader on my Facebook page who wanted advice regarding a hurtful situation. Immediately below is her question and then my response. If I may suggest; please form your own response before you read mine. Then, after you read mine, let’s look at the actual problem when dispensing advice without knowing enough facts.

“Dear Bob, what do I do about a person who is angry with me because I sent her a card and gift for Christmas and who thinks that by doing that I’m trying to buy her friendship? That is absolutely untrue and I can’t understand her attitude. When I give a gift I do it to make that person happy. But since this happened I wonder if I should stop giving. I want to be at peace with people. This kind of thing has ruined our friendship for I have no desire to visit this person anymore, but I have forgiven her, for that is very important.”


My reply: Thank you for writing. I’m so sorry you are going through an uncomfortable situation such as this. Not knowing the context, history and personalities of the two of you, I have no basis upon which to form an intelligent opinion to know why she responded the way she did or the appropriateness or inappropriateness of her response.

Typically, things like this don’t happen in a vacuum; either in terms of cause or in terms of one’s response.

While I understand that you’d like to know why, the fact is … I don’t know. If you read the book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz you’ll see there are most likely a great number of assumptions at play within this one transaction. None of which I am privy to.

Regarding your question, “Should I stop giving?” that depends upon the reason why you gave in the first place. Again, for me to assume anything would be out of line on my part, as I simply don’t know you well enough to know. If your giving was without an agenda and she – based on nothing more than her own personal belief systems – came to a false conclusion, then the answer would be, “no, don’t stop giving in the way you are giving.” Again, it is not for me to assume either way.

Would there be anything in the past history of your friendship that would cause her to think, for any reason, that you might have an agenda? Again I simply do not know, so any definitive answer that I provide would be based on an assumption on my part.

While you say you have forgiven her, I feel the need to ask if that is really so. Based on what could simply be my own assumptions, I sense that might not be totally the case. Might you perhaps be saying that you forgive her because you believe it is correct to forgive her (as you said, “that is very important”) and that you’d like to think you’ve forgiven her? If you were to re-read right before saying you’ve forgiven her, you wrote, “…has ruined our friendship for I have no desire to visit this person anymore.”

With that said, please know that, if you haven’t “truly” forgiven her, that is nothing to feel guilty about. It’s called being human. However, it’s probably healthier for you to be aware that you are still working through the forgiveness process and have actually not yet forgiven her (or, forgiven yourself for whatever part you might or might not unconsciously feel you have played in this).

I hope this has provided some insight in terms of questions you can ask yourself and is of assistance both in this and in further dealings with others.


As you just saw, I really didn’t give her an answer. So, what is my point in writing this?

Only that, so often, when someone asks for advice or an opinion, we base our response on how WE view the world (our own assumptions caused by/based on our own belief systems). If we are coaching or mentoring someone, this advice can then manifest itself as a reflection of ourselves rather than those involved in the challenge.

My feeling is that – before we can helpfully respond, we must first ask helpful questions; these with the primary purpose of exposing all assumptions that will get in the way of truth.

Of course, the above wasn’t a coaching session. My point is that it is easy to fall into the trap of answering questions when we simply don’t have enough information to go on.

I’ll never forget the time I saw a well-known speaker leading a youth session at an event I was attending. During Q & A, a young man asked a question regarding a situation he was having with his father and how he should handle it. With nothing more to go on than what the youngster told him, the speaker provided some advice that would – at worst – ruin their relationship and – at best – significantly slow down any progress that would be made.

I knew about certain things regarding the speaker’s history that indicated to me that his advice – based on extremely limited information – was based on the anger issues he had regarding his parents.

Interesting is that this speaker was extremely successful in his field and in many regards had a lot of wisdom. But, his personal history and belief systems, along with the arrogance of thinking he could possibly know enough about such a hugely important situation without any more information than he had, possibly deeply harmed one of the most sacred relationships on this earth – that between a parent and child.

One additional thought: I can personally (and, I’d imagine you can, too) come up with numerous reasons and scenarios for what happened between the two people in the initial example we used earlier, and not one of them might be correct. Or, one or more might be. But, isn’t that the point; there is no way to know for sure without further exploration.

So, as leaders and influencers let’s be sure that we have enough wisdom and – just as importantly – enough information to advise correctly. And, that we are willing to question premises. Especially our own.

[Ed. Note. Bob Burg ( is coauthor of the International Bestseller, The Go-Giver. The book has been published in 21 languages and has sold over 250,000 copies. His newest book, Adversaries Into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion will be released October 31, 2013. To download Chapter One, visit]