I have become convinced the Socratic Method is the secret to business success. In short, the answer is in the question. By asking better questions, we enable others to come to their own resolutions. Most of us in business are problem solvers, and often the answer to someone else’s problem or challenge seems obvious to us. Therefore, we rush in with advice, without stopping and asking questions. What I have learned, and continue to remind myself of daily, is that by asking more poignant questions, the resulting answer may not only be better, it may also be different than what we perceived as obvious before we asked. And most important, eureka only comes when a person discovers their own answer.
Following is a quote from one of my CEO members that, to me, captures the essence:
“I had a very interesting life lesson yesterday. Another member was leading and that was probably a little difficult for me to have someone else in charge. Once I accepted my role and decided to listen instead of work hard to offer my opinion, my perception of how I could add value changed drastically. I remember that Elisa said, ‘work to ask questions and not just offer suggestions’. I struggle with that as I always want to solve other people’s problems for them. It’s like counseling. The counselor never seems to tell you your problem; they just keep asking questions until you have the realization and state it yourself. That always bugged me. I now realize that until someone deeply understands their own problem, they will not take action nor will they truly support any action that they do take based on another’s understanding. I think I got more value out of the meeting than any other person in the room. That value was directly linked to not talking”.
Often times it can be useful to use a little empathy with your feedback to reduce the perception of arrogance and lower the others defense mechanisms.
Usually, we too have struggled with the same issue that needs attention and by addressing this issue, we furthered our own growth. Yes, questions can be useful in a therapy setting but as managers and leaders, we don’t want to do therapy. What we want to convey is that growth is a process of acknowledging, addressing and eliminating flaws or deficiencies that hand cuff or impede our growth. This isn’t an individual’s problem as much as it is the human condition. In the book, the spirituality of imperfection, it’s shown that stories can convey an important message or food for thought. Overcoming “Perfectionism” allows to lower our fearful defenses and confront in a healthy, constructive way that, yes we are flawed and defective, but we can become less so.