It happens on a regular basis. Someone you know – a friend, a spouse, a child, a co-worker – will come to you frustrated because he’s having problems. If you’re in a hurry and if you have superior experience and wisdom, maybe you can make the problem go away. And that’s nice, because problems are bad, and solutions are good. And you can prove once again how smart you are.

But taking over someone’s problem this way has bad side effects. The worst is that the person is robbed of the chance to exercise thinking and problem solving skills. As a result, he doesn’t grow stronger and more independent. People feel so much better about themselves when they deal with an issue successfully. It’s the number one way to build confidence and self-esteem.

Besides, your opinions and advice aren’t always spot-on. It’s tricky to try to solve another person’s problems because you aren’t in his skin, you aren’t aware of all the variables. I’ve written elsewhere about the dangers of giving advice.

So what should you do instead? The answer is a people skill that maybe you haven’t heard much about – stimulate the other person to think for himself.

When someone comes to you with a problem, if it’s clearly his problem – not your problem – resist the temptation to offer your solution or give advice.

Instead, ask questions that get the person to think. Some examples…

  • How would you like me to help you with this?
  • How much does this matter to you?
  • How long have you been concerned about this?
  • What do you believe is going on?
  • How did you feel about that?
  • What do you think about that?
  • What’s your opinion?
  • What does this mean to you?
  • What does this tell you?
  • What ideas do you have?
  • What are some other ways to resolve this?
  • What would you like to do?
  • Is this something you’re willing to do?
  • If you do that, what do you think would happen?
  • What do you need to do to make this happen?
  • What would success look like to you?
  • What support would you like from me?

It will help if you…

  • Keep in mind that it’s their problem, so resist the temptation to solve it for them
  • Ask questions that get them to address the steps of effective problem solving
  • Don’t answer your own questions
  • Don’t give advice, even if they ask for it
  • Don’t try to solve the problem for them
  • In between questions, do a lot of LISTENING
  • Share relevant information, if you have it
  • Support their preferred solution, even if it’s not what you would do
  • Guide them to resources, if they need them

If you really want to help people, don’t give them fish. Help them learn to fish.

The context for this article is the subject of Chapter 5 of my new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

You can grow the bond with your child through better listening. Download the FREE ebook, Listening to Understand.