Too often we try to help others by telling them what to do when we should be asking them questions. And too often we ask questions when we need to tell them what to do. Neither is right in every situation. Here’s how I choose when to do what (not that I always get this right).
Telling is ideal when you need to solve the problem as fast as possible. It’s efficient. And, assuming you have a real expert giving the advice, it solves the problem. Telling puts you in a position of authority. Having an authority figure make the decision can feel good for both sides. But it can also create distance in the relationship. And if you haven’t been invited to give advice, it won’t be received well. (See my previous post for more on this). But if you’re in a crisis, where speed and a sense of security are critical, then telling is likely the best approach.
Asking is ideal for developing people. It is slower and sloppier than telling (in the short-term). But asking stimulates growth in others, prompting them to consider the issue for themselves and create a solution that is truly their own. Asking (when you want to tell) requires a bit of humility, honoring the other person’s ability to think and decide, and it draws people together. Tweet This It’s more risky than telling, but it builds trust fast. If your goal is to help a person become better, and you have the time to get to the solution more slowly, asking is better than telling.
When deciding whether to ask or tell, I consider these factors:
- Do I have stated permission to tell them what to do?
- How urgent is the problem?
- How big are the consequences if they get this wrong?