Are you listening? Or perhaps most importantly, are you asking?

10 minute read

I once heard someone say, “try to notice how many times you give advice, or your opinion without actually being asked for it.” 

This really got me thinking and I realised I was doing exactly this – and in fact – doing it a lot. 

Usually, I just wanted to help. Don’t most of us? However, simply telling someone what you think, may not actually be helpful to them. 

It’s often easy to tell people what to do, or where they went wrong. Some people tell, some people listen, but the best approach is to ask. 

Tell, tell, tell.

There is a time and place for telling people things. Urgency, pace, direction, clarity can all call for a decisive view. 

But if you tell too much, you will likely get:

  • Group think, or worse your own echo chamber;
  • Inhibited learning, growth and connection with others;
  • Reduced ability in others to openly share mistakes or warn of potential issues;
  • Create a dependence limiting abilities and number of successors;
  • Followers.


There is a time and place for listening. To give space and show empathy and learn and get clarity. But listen too much and you will get:

  • The belief from others you have no views or views of value;
  • A perception of sitting on the fence;
  • Ignored;

Asking questions.

In my opinion, asking questions generates a lot of positive outcomes, here’s just a few by means of an example:

  • Engage the mind in a search for clues, meaning, understanding, reason, logic and a solution;
  • Causes a thunderstorm of activity across the brain as multiple facets of our mind are engaged in new combinations to create new thoughts, clarity, increasing our capacity
  • Help us move from stuck (no answer state) to a state of searching for an answer to a powerful question where we challenge our pervious perceptions for positive outcomes;
  • Challenge current thinking to enhance our world view and life experiences; 
  • Create a sense of pride, ownership and engagement that ‘I came up with the answer’.

Those that often ask questions tend to develop people, engage people, influence others, have more time due to the fact that people aren’t so reliant on them, learn from others, generate and promote creativity and are freed from ego and personal bias. 

Balance is key to how we communicate, and you can tell people what you’ve just listened to from them to check understanding. You can incorporate your preferred tendencies, but in my humble opinion (not that you asked for it, but then again you have got this far in my blog) mastering questioning techniques is one of the most powerful life skills you can develop. And the good news is that it is a skill, and you can develop it. 

Useful questioning techniques. 

  • Be curious about almost everything. Before giving your view, always try to think about what can I ask about this? 
  • When someone is stuck, explore the issue through questions rather than telling them what to do. For instance, why not ask them, “what has to change for this to be better for you?” or “what specifically is holding you back?” 
  • Always try to start a sentence, with What, How, When or Specifically
  • Try to listen out for assumptions, generalisations and predictions and then gently test the validity and inference of certainty behind them. You will help broaden and open people’s minds to more creative and less biased thinking by doing so. 
  • Avoid asking people why they did or didn’t do something. For a start, it happened in the past, so unless you have a time machine, you may as well forget about it. Secondly it becomes about a justification, i.e. not learning for future benefit. Rather than asking “why did you do that?” ask, “what was it about this situation that got us here?”
  • When you ask a question, you need to try to stop your mind thinking ahead and really pay attention to listening to the response there and then. 
  • Listen to your instinct. We often ignore feelings most of the time and your instinct is very good at telling us what people may be feeling. If your instinct says they may not be feeling so good, then trust it and ask them if they are ok. 

So…what do you think?