“It Depends” — lessons in exploration

“It Depends” — lessons in exploration

it dependsIn my more impetus youth, I hated it when someone answered my question with “it depends.” I interpreted that response as either he didn’t know or she couldn’t make a decision.

These days, I chuckle when I find myself replying “it depends.”

I’ve learned (the hard way!) the importance of considering variables and the value in sometimes responding with “it depends.”

If the questioner hasn’t walked away in silent or not-so-silent disgust upon receipt of that answer, I’ll ask “How about exploring with me why I gave you that answer?” and we’ll end up in a rich, teachable moment discussion, in which thinking moves from arbitrary black-and-white to shades of gray.

Being on the receiving end of “it depends”

If you’re on the receiving end of an “it depends” answer:

1.  Channel your impatience or disdain into inquiry.

As Covey reminds us, seek first to understand. Ask clarifying questions to understand why you received that response. Own delving in to determine the reasons behind the answer. Sometimes “it depends” does come from a vapid place; more frequently, though, it comes from a place full of new thoughts.

2.  Be open to exploring alternatives and contingencies. 

Possibilities that may have never occurred to you can be top of mind for someone else…and could be a critical, overlooked factor which positively impacts your decision-making.

3.  Challenge yourself to understand why you want a black and white or speedy answer. 

Are you seeking a quick fix? Are you reluctant to take a deeper look? And if so, why? Are you succumbing to quantity over quality?

Being on the giving end of “it depends”

If you’re on the giving end of an “it depends” response:

1.  Own up to not knowing the answer. There’s no shame in not knowing. There’s lots of shame in covering up, denying or fibbing.

2.  Share your insights about your ambiguous answer.  People process information in very individual ways, so providing an explanation of how you reached your conclusions helps round out other’s thinking.

3.  Engage the questioner in dialogue. Exchange thoughts to expand one another’s point of view, and see where both of you in growing your comfort and understanding zones.


“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” ~Joseph Joubert


What “it depends” learnings do you have to share?

Image source before quote:  morgueFile.com