Alice has a problem and she goes to Bob for some advice. She pours her problems out to him, unaware that he isn't paying attention, but by the end of their "conversation" she's figured out the answer to her problem and thanks Bob for his help. On the other hand, Bob may be all set to give her some advice, but before he can get a word in, Alice comes up with a solution and runs off, thanking him, and leaving Bob bewildered, though he'll still probably say, "You're welcome." If Bob contributed anything at all, it was simply to serve as a catalyst for Alice to re-state (and thereby re-think) her problem. Bob may even be unconscious the whole time.
In short, this is when a character has a Eureka Moment without being inspired by the other character, but acts like the other character gave them just what they needed or thought they needed. Sometimes the other character isn't actually listening in the first place - they're asleep, or they've left the room, etc. Sometimes it's an animal, a person who they share no languages with, or The Silent Bob. When invoked, an outright inanimate object, such as a stuffed animal or the famous rubber duck, is another common alternative.
A common variation is for a character to be visiting their therapist, who doesn't say much more than "hmm," and "I see," yet they leave the session feeling much better (in fact, psychoanalysis actually recommends that the therapist say as little as possible, partly to prevent them from putting words in the patient's mouth and partly to encourage the patient to talk themselves).
Also known as Rubber Ducking IRL. At the other extreme we have Glad I Thought of It. Compare Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap! for another situation where the act of describing the situation leads a character to a (much less helpful) understanding. See also Repeat What You Just Said.
- An ad for Cocoa Krispies cereal featured a high school girl talking to Cocoa the chimp about an issue with her boyfriend. After spending half the day talking to him about the problem, she realizes that the problem isn't the hill she wants to die on and thanks Cocoa for the advice. This is despite the fact that, being a chimpanzee, Coco can't talk.
- Airplane II: The Sequel has this with Ted Stryker, in a flashback.
- The third act of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has Willy Wonka laying on a Freudian Couch with an Oompa-Loompa in the psychiatrist role. As Wonka details the problems he's currently facing with his candy-making, he suddenly realizes where he's gone wrong. He sits up and thanks the Oompa-Loompa, who hasn't said a word the whole time.
- In a cut scene from Galaxy Quest, the engineers approach Fred (Tech Sergeant Chen) with a problem. In the process of explaining it to him, they stumble upon the solution, then give him the credit.
- In The Lion King 1½;, Rafiki comes to advise Timon some time after his friends have left him to go fight evil. Since Timon has been lonely for days at this point, he doesn't even bother hearing what Rafiki has to say and instead mimics what he thinks the baboon is about to say. Which, based on what Rafiki says after Timon charges off towards the Final Battle, is actually pretty accurate.
Rafiki: My work here is done.
- Some of Hermione's I-think-I-just-had-an-epiphany-I'm-off-to-the-library moments in Harry Potter were like this. Lampshaded by Ron at least once (he hates it when she figures something out and then leaves without telling them what it was).
- Rin, in Shannon Hale's Forest Born has the gift for helping people this way, due to her quiet and accepting nature.
- Momo, by Michael Ende. Momo is a little girl who basically solves everyone's problems by simply listening to them. She never gives any advice at all, but the people who talk to her suddenly come up with ideas and solutions.
- One of the many reasons Sherlock Holmes keeps Watson around; explaining his cases to someone with less understanding often gives him just the brainstorm he needs.
- Psmith's relationship with Mike as his "confidential secretary and adviser" seems to embody this. Psmith is constantly praising Mike for his "invaluable" intelligence, despite the fact that he rarely lets him even get a word in edgewise; the truth is he likes having an audience.
- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency addresses the first example listed under Real Life below; computers are logical, but lack common sense. As such they make an excellent substitution for a particularly dimwitted student; by breaking down a process into simple logical steps that a computer can understand, you are bound to understand the process better yourself. Very much Truth in Television.
- Mused about in Jingo by Lord Vetinari, who thinks that when people go ask other people for advice it isn't because they want their help. They just want someone to be there while they talk to themselves. He does it himself with Leonard de Quirm, a man detached from the city's interests and thus someone he can talk at.
- Black Books, Bernard and Manny visit the same psychiatrist, and both of them experience (temporary) epiphanies. The shrink never says a thing, and gets showered with money for her trouble.
- Happens in the Castle episode "Punked". Alexis asks her dad how to know if she's in love, but before he can give her any advice, she rambles on about it, coming to her own conclusion, but thanking him as if he gave her the answer. Quoth Castle as she runs off, "Glad we had this talk."
- Frasier, when Frasier asks for his brother's advice, he basically uses him as a Straw Therapist while he diagnoses himself.
- This sometimes happens with Charlie's interactions with his therapist in Two and a Half Men. Sometimes he tries to make it happen in order to reach his preferred conclusion, usually with little success.
- Monk, as well, at least once each with Dr. Kroger and Dr. Bell, as well as a time or two where he used a non-therapist as a wall off of which to bounce ideas.
- The therapist Maddie talks to (or rather at) in the Jonathan Creek episode "The Scented Room".
- The second episode of Scrubs did this, where first J.D. and then Elliot did this with Dr Cox. This cemented Dr. Cox as the guy people (especially J.D.) came to with problems, much to his annoyance (especially when it involved J.D.).
- Doctor Who: With the Doctor around, this is almost a given. He'll be talking to his companion and then he'll explain what he had figured out. His companions will still wonder what he said!
- Some Doctors do this as a charming and fairly respectful habit (like the Tenth and Eleventh) but it's a lot more grating in other cases, particularly the First, who will do this, start acting on a plan several places behind the end of his logic train, and then call the companion a stupid child for not keeping up. In "The Romans", his response when Ian asks if Barbara and Vicki are okay is "Pipes!" - when Ian attempts to press him on it, the Doctor explains the convoluted logic train that caused him to deduce that not only are Barbara and Vicki okay but that the Romans are experimenting with using pipes to transport water and then yells at him for not paying attention.
- House, usually at least Once an Episode. Sometimes House and Wilson will be in the same room and talking, but having two entirely different conversations, and something Wilson says or does causes House to get up and leave, generally without explanation. One time when both his team and Wilson were unavailable, House commandeered a passing janitor to be his sounding board; apparently he's physically incapable of being brilliant without someone there to witness it.
- In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "The Hub", Coulson consults with May, who is doing tai chi. May never speaks a word, and at the end of the conversation, Coulson thanks her for her help.
- In Once Upon a Mattress, the Queen asks the wizard to help her think of a test to give Princess Winifred, but ends up just complaining without letting him get a word in edgewise. She ends up coming up with the idea all on her own, but still calls the wizard "a genius" for it.
- The therapist in Phantasmagoria 2 had surprisingly little to say about Curtis's various revelations: everything from being dressed as a girl by his horrifically abusive mother, to his attraction to both his female co-worker and male best friend, to his interest in bondage. You'd think there would've at least been a comment of note. Oh well, Curtis seemed pleased with the sessions.
- An Absent-Minded Professor mage in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim can be asked about her research, and she'll tell the player about problems she's having. If instead of admitting to having no idea what she's talking about you respond with random gibberish ("Uh... Seven?") she'll filter it through several layers of Bat Deduction and come to a breakthrough, thanking you for your insightful advice.
- In one Arthur, King of Time and Space strip, Merlin discusses something with Arthur over breakfast. Merlin then admits he just needed to say it out loud, and Not a Morning Person Arthur replies that obviously Merlin knows him better than to actually ask his opinion at that time of day.
- Used in this Kevin & Kell strip, where Frank seeks guidance from his advisor Simcha.
Frank: Wait. I arrived at my conclusion just by thinking about it.
Simcha: Sometimes this is actually a pretty easy gig for me.
- Early In The Order of the Stick, the ghost of Roy's father made a habit of appearing to him when he tried to get to sleep. After briefly forsaking the rest of the party, he didn't appear, but Roy still tried to talk to him anyway, leading to this trope.
- In Wapsi Square, Monica thanked Darren for his advice without realizing he never said anything.
- Parodied in Shortpacked!; Robin insists on this trope for some reason.
- In Malaak, issue II, page 25, the person giving the inspiration doesn't even know about the mystery.
- In Legendary Frog's flash video "Kerri's Big Invention", Kerrigan asks a monkey for advice, which responds to her in generic monkey noises. Kerrigan admits that she has no idea what the monkey said, but is now somehow inspired. She then immediately gets back to tinkering.
- In Ask Lovecraft, once the resurrected H. P. Lovecraft goes over all the issues over starting a cult of Azathoth for a fan, he begins to realize that the potential income and tax benefits far outweigh those issues.
Howie (in mask and robe): "Okay, here's the deal. I get a cut of tithes and I get dibs on calling myself Heirophant. '''
- In the South Park episode "Are You There, God? It's Me, Jesus," Kyle asks his baby brother Ike for advice and just gets gibberish in response, but he comes to a conclusion on his own.
- In TinkerBell and the Lost Treasure, Terence vents his frustations with Tink to an owl, and actually answers the owl's hoots ("Who?"), working through his problem this way. After he leaves, Fairy Gary shows up, looking for advice about the guys making fun of his kilt.
- Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special has this one where Po thinks of a way to make sure he and his dad spend time together during the Winter Festival, so he mumbles in front of the guard, who remained stoic. He figures out a solution regardless and thanks the guard, who still remained stoic.
- Happens in The Simpsons episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns Part 2" when Lisa finds a clue and then thanks a nearby pigeon for pointing it out to her.
Lisa: I'd kiss you if you weren't riddled with disease.
- Occurs in Play It Again, Charlie Brown between Lucy and Charlie Brown.
- Used in the Gravity Falls episode "The Hand That Rocks the Mabel", with Mabel asking Wendy for advice on breaking up with someone, but as Wendy keeps listing all the guys she's dumped, Mabel realizes what she has to do and thanks Wendy for their talk.
- At least once on The Little Mermaid: The Series, King Triton would ask Dudley for advice, but since Dudley is a turtle and talks very slowly, he can't get a single word in as Triton keeps interrupting him and Triton ends up coming to the conclusion himself.
- In an early episode (possibly the pilot) of Archer, the protagonist heads down to Kreiger's lab to ask him for advice on something. Kreiger doesn't actually say anything throughout this exchange (though he has been shown to talk normally in other episodes), but Archer somehow understands everything he's "saying", thanking him with, "Seriously. You're my Oprah."
- In The Little Rascals episode "The Zero Hero", Alfalfa does this while examining Buckwheat's latest invention after Darla and the other boys have left:
Alfalfa: If I were a superhero, I could show Darla just how super I am. That's a great idea! Thanks, Pete. You've been a big help.
- In one episode of Codename: Kids Next Door an expy of Boliver Trask gets ignored and sent off off with an eleventy billion-dollar budget for his 'child safety projects' by congress so the congressman don't have to listen to his note . While he's voicing his frustration at the way they treat him it takes him a second to realize they gave him a stupidly large amount of funding for his work.
- Lincoln does this in The Loud House episode "Get the Message" with his friend Clyde, who had passed out just a few moments before.
- There is an old academic advice that basically says, if you want to understand what you're learning, find someone who knows even less than you to explain it to. In other words, in the process of breaking down an idea for someone else to understand you also get a better understanding of it (this is very much a truth; even if you thought you got it before, it can reveal a lot of mistakes or parts that you have skipped.)
- In software development, this is called "rubber duck debugging." It's a technique where you try to fix a problem by describing it to an inanimate object, like a rubber duck or a stuffed animal. The supposed reason this works is because saying your thoughts and actions out loud forces your brain to actually think about what you're doing instead of going on autopilot, so you catch any mistakes or oversights you missed.
- The ELIZA program, a "psychoanalytic" computer program where people would type in their problems (for instance, "People don't like me") and it would just throw their statements back at them in the form of questions ("Why do you think people don't like you?"). The majority of users said the program helped them feel better, despite the fact that ELIZA didn't give any actual advice.
- Ancient oracles might also used what modern people might consider psychoanalysis instead of being just mere fortune-tellers. They listened to the supplicant, let them tell their whole story, and at the end, they only said a very short, cryptic answer. This could allow the supplicant to think through his problem and find a solution.