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Volume 8  Number 5   |  May 2018

Didn't I Just Answer That Question?

I don’t know about you, but at least half the questions I’m asked have been asked before by that same person. I don’t mean five years ago, I mean five weeks ago.

Why is this? It’s because the questioners have not integrated the learning. They’ve heard it the first time, applied it, have even been successful with it. But then it evaporated, no longer useful to them, like perspiration disappearing—which is a cooling process!

The issue has cooled down.

When it arises anew—gets hot again—they’ll resurrect the same question to get new relief!

What prompts people to fail to integrate and incorporate new learning (or, perhaps, what fails to prompt them to do so!)? Well, we’re often at fault because we enable this behavior, not only with clients, but also with family members, social acquaintances, and employees.

The problem is that we answer the question.

What we should say is this: “Before I give you my answer, why don’t you tell me what you would do, what you would say, how you would behave? Then we can compare notes.”

This forces the other person to develop some options and not simply rely on you to create them. People are more prone to recall and use what they, themselves, have created. This also provides you with the option of saying, “I agree with your plan” (if it’s a good one) and getting on with your day.

The need for tough love

We can’t be fearful of saying, “That’s the third (or four hundredth) time you’ve asked me that question. Do you recall our prior conversation and my response? Why not?” We’re not being offensive when we’re trying to help others. We are being irresponsible when we don’t try to help others because we’re afraid they’ll take offense.

I asked a coaching client what he thought he should do when he’d asked me a very familiar question. “I don’t know,” he said, “that’s why I’m asking you.”

“Do you mean to tell me,” I replied, “in your many years in this business with scores of clients who have respected you and paid you large sums, you can’t at least theorize the proper response and behavior in this instance? You need me to tell you?!”

He came up with an option that was workable with some fine-tuning. Then I asked, “Tell me how you’ll remember this.” We worked out a method for how he’d recall the solution whenever a similar circumstance arose.


Don’t allow people to become co-dependent. Coaching and mentoring are fine, but not if they turn you into someone to whom others’ issues are delegated. So long as you keep providing the answer, you’re going to find that you keep inviting the question.

© Alan Weiss 2018

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