Clarifying is Key: Using Questions to Stimulate and Empower Others

As those of you know who read last week’s Wow on the downside of offering advice, it can be sooooooo easy to offer others advice in the guise of asking questions.

And while your intentions may be the best, the outcome is sometimes the worst.

What then, to do?

At the Edward Lowe Foundation’s Peerspectives training, we were taught (and tried—very often imperfectly—it’s harder than you think) to swap our advice-giving questions for clarifying questions.

What might those sound like?

Here are a few options:

  • What have you tried…?
  • Can you give me an example…?
  • Can you say more about….?
  • What do you think is the cause?
  • What would success look like?

As you can see, they look and sound simple. But put two of them side by side and you’ll hear a powerful difference:

Clarifying:                                                         Advice-Giving:

“What have you tried?”                                      “What if you tried?”

Hear it?

One comes from a place of curiosity—you don’t know the answer. You haven’t judged the person or the situation.

The other suggests a solution—which has the potential to leave the person asked feeling anything (and everything) from interrogated to foolish.

No good.

If you’re intrigued, I invite you to give clarifying questions a try. (If you’re really intrigued, I cannot recommend the Peerspectives Training highly enough. It’s life-changing.)

I look forward to hearing what you discover.

P.S. As promised, this week’s photo, above, shows the inside of the incredibly charming renovated boxcars you can stay in at the Lowe Foundation.

For more on the value of clarifying questions, check out “Be a Heart Ask, Not a Smart Ask.”