I am a firm believer in the use of questions versus providing answers. There is of course a time and place for giving the answers rather than continuing to ask questions. In all the work that I do with job coaching, mentoring and in leadership and management roles, the approach of asking questions versus giving the answers has always worked well. The people whom I have worked with have developed those critical thinking skills which have prepared them for bigger challenges throughout their career.
As a manager, mentor, or leader do you ask the question or give the answer? Which would you prefer? I suppose if you were rushing around, and who isn’t today, you would prefer to be given the answer and then you can move on to the next problem or task. I guess that makes some sense, but what did you learn from that experience.
As a child you were most likely full of questions, and wanted to know the answers to many things. More than likely you were discouraged from seeking those answers as questioning adults was seen as rude or as a disrespectful behaviour. As you went to school to seek answers, you were taught to put up your hand to ask a question and to give the right answer. Sometimes you were even chastised for giving the wrong answer.
Leaders often feel that if someone comes to them with a problem it is their responsibility to solve it with a correct answer. They believe deep down that not having an answer, correct or not, would mean that the people they work with would lose respect for them as a person and a leader. When leaders do ask questions they are typically focused on specific issues or problems. They don’t use questions as a means to develop new insights into work processes or to encourage thinking outside the box by others.
Questioning leads to an exchange of information between parties and may spark new ideas, processes or better ways of doing things. Asking questions shows that leaders, managers or mentors value the knowledge of others and are open to new ideas. This helps in the building of trusted, respectful relationships. Leadership questioning serves as a role model to let staff know that asking questions is not a sign of weakness but an opportunity for learning. Asking the right questions can also develop critical thinking skills.
Peter Drucker once said, “The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.” Good leaders are willing to be vulnerable and they ask the questions that others may not want to.
Let’s put this into a realistic perspective! You are working for an organization and have been assigned a task that you have completed, but it was done poorly and caused problems for some of your clients. Your manager comes to you to discuss it. Would you rather have Option “A” or Option “B”?
Option “A”: Your manager tells you what is wrong and how to fix it.
Option “B”: Your manager asks you questions, rather than telling you the answers. Your manager may ask questions such as, “What is the impact on other people as a result of this work?”, or “What could we have done differently to improve the quality of this work?”
Think of what your motivation factor will be in Option “A” versus Option “B”. In which situation do you think you will have a greater commitment level to taking ownership of the issue and making it better? How will that change your behaviour for future situations?
Asking questions versus giving answers, what is your choice?
- Peter Drucker
- Why Ask Questions to Kick Butt? – James Brava
- Thomson Learning Inc. – 2008.