The Right Question at the Right Time

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question-markBy Brian Sharpe

Have you ever been in a situation as a parent, boss, coworker, or friend where you didn’t know what to say or do when giving advice? You knew what the person should do, but you were sure they weren’t going to do what you thought they should. As a parent, as a friend, as a leader, and as a mentor, I have been in that situation so many times. My modus operandi is to just tell people what to do. The problem is, that usually ends up not going the way I think it should go.

I don’t know if you are like me, but I often think that if the world just did things the way I think they should be done, it would be a better, more functional place. I know that is arrogant, and most likely not true, but it is a thought I have.

I was recently in a situation where I was in conflict with someone that I respect. We both had different ideas of how something should be done. During this meeting, it was obvious that we weren’t seeing eye to eye. Martin was at this meeting, and he brought me and this man together to talk through and figure out what was going on. Before this meeting, I wanted to spend some time alone in prayer, seeking God and asking for understanding on why this other leader and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. As I prayed, I wasn’t getting any clarity to what was going on in this relationship. I could understand where I was coming from, and I thought I understood where the other man was coming from … but boy, was I wrong!!!

While praying, I called a mentor of mine, Jim. We usually meet once a month, but I needed his advice and his outside perspective. While on the phone with Jim, I explained the situation. I explained the reason for the meeting. Jim’s first response wasn’t to tell me what he thought I should do. His first response was to empathize, then to asking questions. He has a framework that he works though in situations like this, and the first thing is seeking to understand by asking questions. As he asked questions, he better understood the situation.

At this point, if I were Jim, I would have moved into telling me what to do. Instead, he started asking more questions about why I was responding the way I was. By the end of our conversation, it was clear to me all the ways I needed to own my improper leadership. I thought I knew what was going on, but I was blinded by my own biases. Jim was not; he was able to help me understand the blind spots in my life. He did this by asking questions, not by making statements.

I really am learning that this is the best way to help people. We need to become master question-askers. As a pastor, I see this. As a parent, I see this. As a husband, I see this. How often could an argument (I mean if Tomina and I argued . . . which of course we never do! JK) have been stopped if I would had asked a good question instead of making a statement? Asking good questions means you are seeking to understand, not make a point. This takes humility and intentionality. But in the end, I think it leads us down the path we want to go down, and that is to help others.

I have seen where someone asking good questions has helped me. I have seen where good questions have helped others. Leading through questions is hard, but worth the time it takes. In the future, when people are seeking your help or you are trying to help a family member or a friend, stop, think, and ask yourself what question needs to be asked, instead of what statement needs to be made.

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