WHEN PEOPLE ASK A QUESTION, THEY DON’T ALWAYS WANT AN ANSWER

by Paula on November 23, 2010

I consider myself one of life’s learners. The more I learn, the more I realise there is to learn. Taking on board new information, and trying things out are strong motivators for me in all areas of my life. There are those I meet who think that they have all the answers and there’s nothing more to learn, a very obstinate frame of mind and one I feel sorry for. Every day, through reading, talking, connecting with people, I learn and I do so willingly.

At a parents evening at my son’s school last year I learnt something that has both eased one of the challenges of parenting, and also helped with my professional relationships too.

I have a son who, despite his young years, has a hugely inquisitive mind and questions me in depth about all manner of things at any time of the day or night that a problem pops into his head. “Mummy, where do we come from?”, “Mummy, does God exist?”, Mummy, where do the stars and the planets end?” You get the picture (and yes, Daddy does get away with it most of the time!). I raised this to his Reception class teacher and asked for advice on age appropriate answers as the constant questions were quite exhausting and I often found myself struggling to find the right answer! What he said has stuck with me. He said, “Stop trying to think you always have to have the answer, you don’t. Ask him back the question and you will often find he has an answer already in his head and is just looking for some clarification on that. Let him take the lead and go from there.”

So, I tried it.

Son: “Mummy, Who created the earth and who were the first people on the earth?”

Me (While rapidly thinking through the options for my intelligent answer): “I don’t know Son, who do you think created the earth and were the first people on the earth?”

Son: “I don’t know Mummy, but can we find them and ask them why they invented itchy feet?”

This exchange and the random reason for the question stopped me in my tracks! I realised that my perception of what people want to know is not always anywhere near what they have in their head! Ok, so maybe my clients and colleagues aren’t quite so random, but I’ve learnt. Don’t rush in with an answer, ask back and find out more. Listen and understand. What are they really asking and are they really just wanting to share something that they are thinking?

By taking this Reception teacher’s advice (Thank you Mr Nolan!) I have been able to take a step back from the pressures both at home and work of always having an answer, and opened up new opportunities to listen and learn, and then offer a much more tailored response.

If you also find yourself under pressure to always have an answer, take some advice from Mr Nolan too, and ask that question right back. You may be surprised at the way the conversation goes and be able to be more of a guide than a Leader. Which often is just what the other person needed.

{ 4 comments }

Ross Gerring November 23, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Great article cous! Love your work

Paula November 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Thanks Ross! Nice to think my words are being read on the opposite side of the world!

Tony November 23, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Very deep!
Socrates said that he knew nothing himself but could lead others to find their own truth by asking them questions.
Nevertheless, I think he would have been thrown by the “itchy feet”!

Paula November 24, 2010 at 9:09 pm

That Socrates talked a lot of sense! 😉 I have a friend who is also very good at asking searching questions that lead you to answer things for yourself. It’s definitely a talent to be able to do that.

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