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Think back to the last time a friend poured out their heart to you. Did you, like most of us, immediately dive into problem-solving mode, armed with advice and solutions? Now, recall their reaction. Did they seem a bit irritated, or maybe they even ended up walking away, leaving the conversation feeling unresolved?

Let me share a quick story from before my coaching training and discovering the power of asking. Sarah, a colleague, approached me one day visibly distressed. Instinctively, I jumped into my usual mode of providing solutions, thinking I was being helpful. To my surprise, she seemed a bit frustrated.

Here’s the thing: we’ve all been there. It’s a common instinct to want to fix things. But what if there’s a better way?

Consider a scenario where instead of assuming, you asked a simple yet profound question: “What kind of support can I offer you right now?

  • A listening ear
  • A problem-solver, or
  • A brainstorm-partner

The beauty of this approach lies in its simplicity and versatility. Let’s break down the three options:

  1. Listening Ear (L): Sometimes, all a person needs is someone to listen without judgment or immediate intervention. The ‘L’ option acknowledges the importance of active listening, empathy, and emotional support. By offering a listening ear, you create a safe space for the person to express their thoughts and feelings without feeling rushed, judged or pressured.
  2. Problem-Solver (P): On the other hand, some people appreciate direct solutions and actionable advice. The ‘P’ option is for those who prefer a more straightforward approach. It recognizes that some problems require immediate attention and benefit from a structured plan of action. By asking if they want you to be a problem-solver, you respect their autonomy and allow them to guide the conversation.
  3. Brainstorm-Partner (B): Collaboration can be a powerful tool in problem-solving. The ‘B’ option suggests a joint effort to explore various possibilities and potential solutions. This approach values teamwork and shared creativity, fostering a sense of unity and shared responsibility in finding a resolution.

By asking Sarah what type of support she needed, I could have tailored my response to give her what she needed in that situation. Whether she wanted a listening ear, someone to help her solve the problem, or a collaborator in brainstorming solutions, the choice would have been hers.

This method provides a refreshing alternative to the common instinct of jumping into solution mode. How many times have we found ourselves offering advice or trying to solve a problem only to realise that the person on the receiving end wasn’t seeking that kind of support?

Asking takes the guesswork out of support by putting the person’s needs at the forefront. It’s about creating a space for open communication and understanding that one size does not fit all when it comes to offering help.

Remember, this approach isn’t about following a set of rules but rather adopting a mindset that prioritises the other person’s preferences. This method emphasizes the significance of asking before assuming, ensuring that your efforts align with the actual needs of the person seeking support.

Next time you find yourself eager to help someone facing a challenge, consider asking a question first. By doing so, you will empower them to express their needs, making your support not only well-intentioned but also genuinely effective.

It’s a simple shift that can make a world of difference in your leadership style, the relationship and the way you provide support.

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