The Art of Finding Solutions

The Art of Asking Questions

Helping people does not always mean giving them answers.  The most helpful, loving and powerful thing I can do for another person might be to ask them a question rather than give them a solution.  Many of us are skilled at telling people what to do whether we are asked or not.  We are professional “tellers.”  But rather than looking to solve a person’s problem with your solution, consider instead asking them a few questions.  Why ask questions?  What kinds of questions should I ask?  Here are 4 principles for finding solutions through questions.

1. Questions are Powerful because they Stimulate Thinking.

When I ask a person a question rather than offering a quick solution I am encouraging the person to think. Thinking is usually a good thing. Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” When I am forced to think, I tend to come up with creative solutions. Questions that stimulate thinking will encourage a person to look for new ways of doing things and will promote self-discovery. Asking questions is more difficult than firing off a quick answer, but a person will likely move forward and grow by thinking more than they will by you solving every problem for them. Good questions consider a person’s motives, emotions, what has been effective in the past, and new options not yet considered.

2. My Solution is often not the best way.

Just because I solved the problem in a particular way does not mean that it will be the best solution for the person that I am helping. The best solution for me in my context might be a disastrous path for another person to take. When I step in with a quick solution I fail to understand that the circumstances, personalities, and contexts are quite different from my own. Rather than applying my solution, questions recognize that each context and situation is different. By asking a person questions, they create their solutions that are often more powerful and meaningful to them then another person’s suggestions.

3. Don’t assume the person is even looking for you to give them solutions.

Often I offer a solution to someone who isn’t even looking for me to solve her problem. She simply needs to be heard, to think out loud, and verbally process the issue. Being quick to give advice often shuts down conversations. Allow the person to process, think, and move forward by listening and asking good questions.

4. The Best questions are open-ended.

Rather than asking Yes or No questions, look to ask questions that stimulate thinking and discovery. Here are some examples:
Do you think you should do that? Closed Question
Are you planning on talking to her? Closed Question
What has worked for you in the past? Open Question
What are your options? Open Question

Next time you are in a position to help another, focus on listening, asking good questions, and stimulate their thinking before injecting yours.

What else have you learned in this area?  Feel free to comment.

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Posted by Brian Howard

My focus is to help YOU move forward one step at a time. I write about church excellence, personal productivity, and family leadership. I coach leaders, start churches, and help organizations break growth barriers. My goal is to draw on this experience to help YOU move forward in life, leadership, and productivity.

  1. I can appreciate your guidance/narrative to listen first, and talk later. I think I may be one of those people who likes to “hear themselves talk”. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to be as much an active listener as I am a “talker”. I’ve also been guilty of offering to solve a problem without being asked to do so. Ego probably has a lot to do with that, I’m sure. As much as I like to hear myself talk, I am a believer that people more often than not – find solutions to their own problems by thinking out loud (verbally) and that they often work their problems out by just sorting out their options while someone is actively listening. It may require nothing more from the listener than a nod or two and an “Uh huh” once or twice (that’s real hard to practice, trust me). Similarly, I remember my mom used to say that she could work out all of her problems doing yard work by simply talking to herself. I realize this isn’t the same as talking to SOMEONE, but the same principle applies – she was merely sorting out all of her options and her brain was actively discerning what was the safest, most effective solution available.


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