Since a very young age, teachers and parents and other authority figures have warned us never to answer a question with a question.
That’s an avoidance tactic for dishonest people who are scared of addressing the issue at hand.
But once we stumble into adulthood, we quickly realize that life is rarely that black and white. Each human being rests at the nexus of a vast number of interwoven causes and conditions that influence their behavior. And sometimes responding to a question with another question is the only way to uncover their true needs in a respectful and compassionate way.
When I think back to the first few times I was hired as a coach, mentor or consultant, I can’t help but shake my head and chuckle. Because my responses to people’s questions were almost always these simple, tidy pat answers that were solely based on my own narrow experience set.
After all, these people came to me with money. I was the lord of answers. Which meant it was my job to be an instant dispensary of advice and insight for as long as the meter was running.
But after a good ten years of experience, I realized that the worst thing we can do with a difficult question is try and answer it too quickly. In fact, by giving people simple answers to complex questions, we rob the questions of the qualities that make them interesting in the first place.
A restaurateur friend of mine once taught me that the nine most important words you could ever say to a prospective client are:
I don’t know, let me ask you a few questions.
Because we have no idea what their experience is. And unless we take the time to dig deeper into that individual’s intentions, motivations, temperaments and contextual situations, our answer will be ill informed and therefore, unhelpful.
Gide, the legendary philosopher and author, said it best:
The color of truth is grey, and man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
All the more reason to answer a question with another question. It’s a respectful, thoughtful and empathetic way to demonstrate a commitment to understanding the other person’s unique needs.
Maybe schools should start teaching that.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What type of answers are you known for giving?
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.
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