What do you do when someone comes to you with a question?
What is your immediate instinct? To answer the question of course!
Why? Many reasons I suppose. First you may know the answer. Second you don’t want to be disturbed and so with a quick reply you can be rid of them. Third, you may feel like you are supposed to have the answer, what with all the seminary training and all. Fourth, you may want that “stroke” of having given a good answer and the satisfaction of how someone came to you (instead of someone else). Fifth, you may answer because you want them to do it “your way” and not get sidetracked with their “hair-brained solution” or someone else’s idea. (After all you’ve got all the right answers, right?)
But did you ever look at these simple interactions as something much more than a mere question and an answer?
That’s right. On its face, it seems like just a simple question and an answer that are needed. But people often have other things in mind when they interrupt us and ask a question. Perhaps they have something else in mind and the question is a mere icebreaker to the more important issue. This will require your sensitivity and perhaps your managing your time well so as to discern the real agenda and suggest an appropriate time if that is not it. You may want to ask, "is there anything else?" as an invitation to go deeper.
The most common situation though is that they are honestly stuck and need some help. What then? What is the best way to help them? Fire out the answer for all the reasons listed above? (We must admit that few are “good, right and salutary"!) What other options do you have?
How about answering a question with a question? If they are stuck then wouldn’t the best way to help them be through facilitating their thinking through the answer? After all, if you merely answer it for them, what will they do the next time they have a question? They’ll come to you! Won’t that feel good? Perhaps initially but doesn’t it create a dependence? Of course it does! And let's be honest and admit that the reasons above are not good reasons to simply answer the question.
How about some of these replies:
- What were you thinking would be a good solution?
- What would you do?
- What else? What other options are there?
- Who else could help you?
- What steps would it require?
- How does that align with our Mission and Vision and Values?
Now don't those questions affirm the questioner? They may feel a bit put upon at first but along the way they will come to the conclusion that you believe in them, you are confident they have good ideas and they will probably get even more excited about new ideas and possibilities. That sounds like empowerment to me!
In real life dialogue for empowerment, the answer is often the question!
Now, how can you live into asking questions when people come to you for answers?
- Are you aware of what might get in the way of you answering with a question?
- What’s up with that? What do you get when you take someone’s responsibility from them?
- How will you be different going forward?
- What questions will you have at the ready for a thoughtful reply?
- How will you catch yourself so as to live into this new approach?
- How else will you affirm people when they think things through creatively?
Empowerment Part 9 Real Life Empowerment Dialogue