I recently gave an online keynote on “the art of conversation” for a group of around 50 people from all over the world with very diverse backgrounds. One thing I focused on was how being curious and asking questions is usually a better way to lead conversations then giving advice or suggestions. This can be really counterintuitive: when I have good advice, why not share it with whomever I’m talking to?

Here are a couple of reasons:
1. Solutions are like apple pie — self-made is best

if you ask questions rather than giving advice your counterparts will be invited to think for themselves and will be able to develop ideas and solutions which fit their personal circumstances. Only they know exactly what kind of idea is going to help them.

2. Yes, but

“Mom, I’m bored!”, those of us who are around children know this situation: the kid’s bored and you are turning into a suggestion machine: “Why don’t you go play outside?” “No, I don’t want to” “How about drawing?” “That’s so boring!” — This will go on ad infinitum. When you suggest or give advice there is always a danger of a never ending cycle of “Yes, but”. We all know these meetings went problem solving turns into a “Yes, but” – fest. They are annoying and lead nowhere. So the best thing to do when you find yourself in this situation is to step back and ask a question.

3. Teach me how to fish

We all know the saying: “Give a man a fish and he will have food for one day, teach them how to fish and he will have food every day”. When we invite people to think through their own issues and are curious about how they will solve them, we further their abilities. Plus, we might even learn something ourselves when they develop their own solutions.

4. It won’t be your fault

Last but not least, if the solution your counterpart came up with doesn’t work, they will only have themselves to blame 😊. And again, if you are foreseeing that what they are attempting won’t work, it’s best to phrase that as a question rather than an objection. “Have you thought about …” Has much less of a likelihood to become a “Yes, but”-game then “this won’t work because…”

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