Ask - Don’t Tell

Have you ever been guilty of telling another what he did wrong and how to fix it? How did that work? If someone was about to take a destructive path, did you point out the pitfalls? How was that received?

What is the underlying message you give people when you tell them what to do?

In my work with recovering addicts many have the noble goal of working with youth to tell them the dangers of drugs and thus prevent their downfall. My question is: “Did you not have anyone in your life tell you of the harm?” One hundred percent answer in the affirmative.

My next question is: “What makes you think your telling them will make a difference?”

My goal is to train individuals the art of asking thought provoking questions that leads to self-evaluation and personal accountability. It is about helping the person come to terms with who he is and who he wants to be.

Ask pertinent questions to get the person thinking in a new vein. The purpose in asking self-evaluation questions is not necessarily for the person to rattle off answers, but to give them something to privately consider and come to a conclude.

We have to agree there is a problem before we are willing to explore an answer to the problem. We have to see that we are vulnerable before we are willing to set boundaries. We have to be asking the questions before we will listen to the answers. When we come to the conclusion on our own, then we are more open to insight and change becomes easier. In order to see the problem, rather than to defend our position, it is important that the focus is on self-evaluation vs. feedback.

Following are a few suggestions to get the questioning process going:
What do you hope to accomplish through this action?
What are you doing to help meet this goal?
What will you do if things do not go as you assume they will?
What else can you do? What resources do you need?

As you help establish a benchmark, he is better able to gauge his present behavior. The more thought provoking insights, be they questions or comments, the more effective the individual’s self-evaluation can be.

Ask for permission to give suggestions and then respect their wishes. This is not to say that there is not a place for feedback. One of the best ways to defuse resistance is to respectfully ask something like, “Have you considered…” or “What would you think about…” Giving specific feedback will reinforce the behaviors we are teaching.

I find most people are open to feed back if it is not forced upon them. Once, in a delicate situation with a client, I wanted to give some insight but sensed defensiveness. I asked, “May I make a comment regarding that decision?” He immediately answered, “No!”
I smiled and said, “Okay. I will respect that. What’s next on the agenda?” He called later. When I answered the phone his immediate response was, “Okay. I’m ready. Let’s hear it.”

Leave the final decision up to the individual regardless of the consequences. What is your motive when advising another? If they take your advice and the consequences are favorable, rejoice with them and do not take credit for their decision. You may have given the schedule, but they bought the ticket and got on the bus.

If they ignore the principles and life continues in a downward spiral, have compassion for their misery and continue to be an encourager.

What is the best way to help? Telling someone what to do" Or, asking questions that lead to the individual’s accountability and growth? I suggest it is by helping them to question their own behavior that may well lead to new conclusions. As you learn to ask thought provoking questions, it will lead the individual to self-evaluation and personal accountability. It is about helping the person come to terms with who he is and who he wants to be.

DON’T COPE, OVERCOME. Carry the message not the person. The message is that you can change but I cannot do it for you. The message is that you can overcome difficult circumstances. The message is that I can give you tools, but I cannot use them for you. The message is that there are other perspectives but I cannot make you receive them. The message is, there is help but I cannot force it on you. Each person is self-determining, even if he chooses destructive behavior or believes differently. The message is you have to do for yourself. I care, but I will not carry you.

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