Too many answers
The organization I lead is considering a new initiative. In the hallway, I was asked if we had plans to provide child care. We didn’t.
I also assumed the person asking wanted child care provided. I gave a few reasons why we weren’t planning child care and paused.
It was then I realized my questioner didn’t want an answer from me. They already had an answer for me.
You may feel pressure to have answers but you’re often better off with questions.
A better approach
Stop thinking you should have all the answers.
Rather than giving answers I should have asked a few questions that opened a conversation.
- “Why do you ask?”
- We are in the planning stages, “Do you have ideas?”
- “What are you thinking?”
- “What’s important to you?”
They say it’s not good to answer a question with a question. I think “they” may be wrong.
If your boss expects a report, it’s probably better to give an answer rather than saying, “Why do you ask?”
The problem with giving answers is answers frequently limit and close rather than expand and open.
The right answer
Leaders give the right answers when they keep everyone focused on mission and vision — the big picture. They give “wrong” answers when they control the details of execution.
When your internal answer-man or answer-woman emerges, it may be useful to pull them back and make room for the question-person.
Are you tempted to give answers rather than ask questions?
Have you given an answer when you should have asked a question?
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There is a corollary to this idea. When you get a suggestion from one of your people, instead of reacting to it, ask what problem the idea is intended to solve? Sometimes, you’ll find you agree with the problem, but not the solution and it is easier to say just that, vs. arguing that you don’t like the suggestion before you know the problem it is intended to solve.
Excellent suggestion. I’m still learning to hold my tongue, pause, listen, and explore. I have too many answers.
This is great advice for our personal lives also. I am finding it works especially well with my teenage son. Asking questions opens doors. Quick answers close them.
Great application. I love that leadership principles frequently apply in our homes and personal lives.
I had to stop thinking and believing I did have and had to have all the answers years ago Dan. When i did, I freed myself from undue pressure. Good advice here today. Thanks. Oh, love the questions.
Love how you help us know that asking questions is a way to free yourself from undue pressure.
I love this post! Thanks for sharing Dan.
Hi Melissa, Thanks for the encouragement. Best, Dan
Hi Dan, nice post. I only give answers when I am 100% sure of the answer which is not too often. I always do thank people for their question and promise to follow up but also frequently ask for clarification by as you say asking a lot of questions. I think most folks will appreciate you taking genuine interest in their queries and are happy when that concern is manifested by taking the time to ask the questions. What I will never do is provide an answer when I honestly don’t know which basically means I have to fabricate a response and that is the shortest route to disaster and mistrust and loss of credibility. It is an interesting thought that started this post as we get asked the child care question all of the time. In theory a great thing to provide your staff logistically I am told a veritable nightmare. I would like to close by wishing all of the mothers out there in the Leadership Community a very happy Mother’s Day. The moms provide unconditional love and are the epitomy of leadership for all of us regardless of our age. God bless you all! 🙂 Cheers AD
When I grow up I want to be like you. 🙂
I’ll jump on board with using questions to get clarification. If only I knew as much as I thought I new.
Asking someone a questions honors them.
Great call on the shout out to moms…. nicely done.
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Great article on a personal and business level.
I guess as ‘leaders’ we expect of ourselves, and others expect of us, to have the answers. It such a relief sometimes not to give an answer, answer with a question, or just say you don’t know.
As Decouvertes said: “It’s not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”
Thanks, Gary Dunstan.
Thanks for the encouragement. Love the quote you left…super!
I really like this topic. I have made questions my life mission. Asking questions instead of giving answers is a complicated and difficult transition. I wrote a book with a premise that asks, “Are you a question or are you an answer?” An answer wakes up in the morning knowing exactly what to do. A question wakes up not yet knowing. Which works best?
The answer to this question comes fast. What an irony (ANSWER to the question), right? The rest of the transition is a matter of time and effort, for which the book provides snippets from some deep learning and experience.
Is this a trick question? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) This post touches on something that I used to tell my students: Answers are stop signs to the brain. Answers signal thoughts to stop. Questions, on the other hand, help to fuel the thought process. When your team stops asking questions this is a huge red flag that there is something wrong. Questions, not answers, generate new ideas and help to define processes. Once you have reached the point where the answer to the question “What can we do better?” is “Nothing”. It is time to pack up and move along.
The Socratic questioning that you have described helps you to get ths information that you needed and can often help draw the answer out of the person who initially asked the question. In my IT consulting days this type of “asking a question to answer a question” interchange saved a lot of wasted man-hours searching for the wrong solution.
I agree with you considering the premise for your post. In the scenario presented it would be very easy to say “We have / haven’t considered it but I’m interested in what you think about it.”
I would also suggest that leaders who ask the right questions are a step ahead of those who believe they only need to provide the right answers. A leader doesn’t have to have all the answers but they do need a way to get them. It starts by asking the right questions and engaging others.
As a consultant, I find asking questions offers two benefits: 1) The person(s) can see and learn the thought processes that lead to the final answer / solution and 2) The person(s) actually provide the solution and are more prone to support it accordingly (it was their idea!).
As an aside and with reference to a previous post I find it interesting to note that your first question begins with WHY?