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

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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