“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” Marcel Proust

A coworker came to me recently to get input on a problem she was struggling to solve. Before she had even finished describing the issue, I had plenty of opinions and guidance to share.

Giving advice is easy. It makes us feel competent and helpful. But is it always the best way to produce exceptional results? Nope.

Asking great questions instead of giving advice is like moving from a one-way street to an intersection with hundreds of possible paths. You go from one option (your idea) to a multitude of unknown (and probably better) alternatives.

Why do we default to giving advice? Thinking of thought-provoking, expansive questions is hard work. It also doesn’t give us that ego boost that we get when we deliver a pearl of wisdom.

When we ask powerful questions, there are amazing benefits to the person with the problem. The right questions will help the person tap his/her knowledge and previous experience. They gain confidence in their ability to think deeply and find answers. This encourages them to continue learning, and they begin to ask themselves more probing questions when new issues arise. Best of all, masterful questions ensure that the solutions are even better than your original piece of advice.

Judith Ross posted on HBR Online about the types of questions that will help the other person become a better problem solver. She discourages questions that prompt defensive reactions (“What’s the problem with that project?”), leading questions (“Don’t you agree that X is the problem?”) and closed questions (“Who will be involved?”).To stimulate analytic and creative thinking, ask questions that create clarity (“Can you explain more about the situation?”) and encourage breakthrough thinking (“Can that be done in any other way?”). For a complete list, read her blog.

Some other questions that the Humanergy team has used to create new awareness:

  • Does this issue remind you of anything else you’ve encountered before?
  • If you could fast-forward to the future, what would a successful resolution of the issue look like?
  • Are there other ways to define the problem?
  • Is there one thing you would change about this situation?
  • How can you utilize the experience of others who’ve had this problem?
  • What other resources are available to help you find solutions?
  • Are there things you need to give up in order to solve the problem?

Today is the day to take a break from sharing your recommendations and start building the wisdom of your people. Comment on this blog and share the powerful questions that have made a difference for you – moving you from quick advice to deep thinking and truths from the other person.



Need some help building the confidence and learning of your people through great questions? Contact Humanergy.

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