Resisting the temptation to tell

As the name of this blog -‘Ask, Not Tell’ – suggests, I find asking rather than telling to be amazingly more effective in various aspects in life – Presenting, Training, Facilitation, Coaching, Selling, Negotiating…   Yet, it is easier said than done.   It seems to me that the natural tendency for most human being (including me) is to tell rather than ask.   This is especially the case when you actually want to convey some messages e.g. when you are presenting, training, negotiating or selling.   In these situations, there has already been a lot to be dealt with when we are communicating with the others e.g. listening, taking note, observing….   Switching from telling to asking becomes a difficult task.    We may try in the beginning to ask.    However, if our counterpart for example responds very passively to our questions, we will be tempted to give up and just tell.

A rather structured thought came to my mind on how to resist such temptation.   Think about a continuum.   Asking an open-ended question is on one end and telling is on another.   For example, as I try to decide with my wife what to do on a Saturday night, I can either ask ‘What do you want to do this Saturday night?’   Alternatively, I can tell ‘Let’s go for Korean food this Saturday night.’    The above-mentioned challenge is that in the beginning I ask the open-ended question.    She responded with ‘Up to you’, and then I am tempted to just say my ‘Korean food’ thought.

Fortunately there are other options in between these 2 extremes.   The options will look like this:

  • Extreme – ‘What do you want to do this Saturday night?’
  • Intermediate 1 – ‘What kind of food do you prefer?’   I narrow down into dinner.
  • Intermediate 2 – ‘Korean, Cantonese, French, which one do you prefer?’    I narrow down with a few specific choices.   I can further even more specific by mentioning a few restaurant names.
  • Intermediate 3 – ‘How much do you like Korean food?’    I further narrow down into making my wife to think of a specific choice.
  • Extreme – ‘Let’s go for Korean food this Saturday night.’

Well, you may ask why one will take such effort to ask rather than push forward a choice.   The reason is that you want ‘buy-in’ on Korean food (or any other choice) in the first place…. so that you will not ‘suffer’ too much if the Korean food turns out to be bad…

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