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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

27 Mar '12

Helping people learn: Don't tell, ask

Questions are powerful tools in helping others grow. And often underutilized. We are prone to tell others something rather than ask them something. In telling them something we give them valuable information. In asking them questions so that they come to a conclusion themselves we help them to think for themselves, the skill that will help them make good decisions themselves.


We used to do this with our kids at the dinner table. The questions would result in free flow discussions on many topics and both our sons are today deeply inquisitive of life and good thinkers. Sometimes they turned the table on us and asked why we had certain rules, making us think about the why behind the what.


I was talking to a young leader recently about question asking and he made the comment that no one has taught him how to use that skill. I encouraged him that everyone can learn the skill with practice. I also told him that one had to be OK with a bit of silence after asking a question. Be patient and eventually the other party will answer.


Questions are particularly important in helping others understand their own wiring, motivations, strengths and weaknesses. We may not even have the option of telling them these things but through questions and dialogue we can help them uncover their own makeup.


One reason that more leaders do not ask more questions and default to telling is that questions and dialogue take time. Telling is fast and easy. However, while telling is more efficient in the short run is is less effective in the long run since telling rarely helps the other party actually grow. It gives them information but does not build the skill of critical analysis - necessary for growth.


I just finished a week of dialogue with some bright leaders from around the world. Many shared the power of the week because it was based on questions and group dialogue rather than information imparting which they were used to. Several said they would be using the same method with those they oversaw or mentored.


Questions rather than telling also sends a powerful message that you care about the other party. You are implicitly saying to them that you value their perspective, that they have something to contribute to the question at hand and that it is worth exploring the issue together rather than you as the supervisor or leader simply telling them the answer. Telling communicates that you have the answer. Dialogue indicates that we can come up with the answer. There is a big difference.