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Why Asking Questions is More Important than Giving Advice

There is something about giving others advice that makes us feel good, especially when others accept and apply that advice. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Most of the time, our suggestions go in one ear and out the other, even in cases where advice was solicited. This dismissal or lack of follow-through can leave us feeling powerless to help and possibly angry or frustrated because we feel our time was wasted and our insight rejected.

For the individual being advised, if the feedback was unsolicited, they may feel they are being criticized over helped and controlled over directed. The feeling of being controlled can also occur with solicited feedback.

Here are a couple of reasons advice doesn't yield the best results:

  • We tend to advise based on our own beliefs and experiences. Regardless of how well your proposed solutions worked for you, that doesn’t mean it is the best for others. Additionally, we tend to allow our beliefs and biases to get in the way. Unintentionally, you may deter or persuade them to act in a manner that is not in their best interest.

  • Chances are, we aren't providing new insight. If you repeatedly give the same advice to the same person, yet they still come back to you complaining about the same problem and seeking your insight, this often indicates that you have not said what they want to hear. If they agree with your proposed solution but fail to implement it, they are likely not ready to do what is necessary to move beyond the problem. Until they are prepared to do what it takes, you are wasting your breath, time, and energy.

However, carefully constructed questions allow you to offer guidance while letting the person on the other end of the question feel empowered to solve their own problems—a win-win solution.

It is important to ensure our questions are not leading. Our goal in asking questions that guide someone to come to their own conclusion, not encourage them to assume ours.

Here are examples of leading questions:

“Are you aware that ____ is going to cause ____?”

“Would you agree that ___ is the next step you need to take?”

“You do realize that ___ won’t solve your problems, right?”

Additionally, our questions should not be lased with judgment.

For example, “Why would you do that?” “Why would you ever think that was a good idea?”

While we may believe we have good intentions behind these lines of questioning, this is nothing more than our ego saying, “I know better than you what is good for you. How can you not see that?”

Skilled coaches can charge a pretty penny for their services because they are skilled at asking the right questions that help unveil the solution to their client’s problems while leaving them feeling empowered and accountable for their choices.

Here are a few examples of constructive questions:

  • What is your internal narrative saying to you? Is that taking you in the right direction or holding you back?

  • What feelings do you have about ____, and how do you wish to feel? What will it take for you to feel that way?

  • What have you tried so far? How did that work?

  • What amount of time and effort are you willing to put into solving ___? How much of that time and effort are you currently applying?

By asking the above questions and others that prompt introspection and action, you will have a greater chance of helping others achieve their goals. However, if you find that they avoid answering your questions by deflecting responsibility and pinning the blame on others, or they become defensive and frustrated, that tells you all you need to know. They aren’t ready to solve their problem. Your job is done.

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