Teaching by Asking Questions

I had a good conversation with a friend today. We both advise early entrepreneurs. Today we talked about things we’ve learned and best practices. Since we’re doing the same thing in different ways, we can help each other by talking through our experiences and sharing our perspectives.

One thing I’ve learned that I told my friend about has to do with asking versus telling. When you’re experienced, you can see things that novices can’t. When someone’s in a difficult situation that you’ve been in, the natural inclination is to help them avoid the pain that awaits by telling them what they should do or shouldn’t do. This can be helpful, but it’s not the best approach. You’ve set them up for future pain. Yes, you’ve helped them avoid pain today, but you’ve scotched their opportunity to learn. The next time they have to deal with something similar and you’re not around, they won’t know what to do.

When I work with entrepreneurs, I ask questions. My hope is that by thinking through the answer, they’ll connect the dots and learn something that will help them avoid pain both now and later. If I’ve had a relevant experience, I share it with them, of course. But my questions have been more helpful. I’ve noticed that entrepreneurs who’ve answered them feel like they’ve figured out what to do themselves, through learning, which is powerful.

If you want to help people, don’t spoon-feed them information—encourage them to reason . . . analyze . . . think. You’ll be fortifying them against future tribulations.