The art of asking questions

Successful mentors ask many questions and avoid giving advice.

Conventional wisdom tells us to listen more than we speak. This is a particularly helpful recommendation for mentors. We often believe mentors give great advice, but if you take time to reflect on your personal experiences, you will likely realize your mentors didn’t give advice as much as they asked questions to help you navigate difficult decisions.

As a mentor, part of your role is to help your mentee build life skills. Decision-making is a life skill that will help your mentee navigate difficulties for years to come. Next time your mentee asks for advice, try asking questions that will help your mentee make their own decision.

Here are a few questions from Michigan State University Extension to get you started.

  • How do you feel about that? When a difficult decision has to be made, it can be helpful to tap into emotions and see if there is a gut feeling that should be considered.
  • What do you think? A request for advice can be redirected with this simple question. It should get your mentee talking. Many people need to verbally think through options and asking this question will help your mentee start the process.
  • What could happen if you did/said/tried that? Thinking through the consequences is a key component of decision-making.
  • Are you OK with that? The consequences of some decisions are not ideal, and sometimes we are choosing between two less than great options.
  • What else could you do? When you are close to a problem, you might not be able to see all of the options. This question helps your mentee to think beyond initial thoughts and think about other possibilities.
  • Have you considered…? Sometimes your mentee will not see all of the possibilities. It is perfectly acceptable for you to point out other options for consideration – just be careful you aren’t perceived as advocating for the option you share.
  • How can I help? While you can’t make decisions for your mentee, there are other things you can do. Perhaps having you there for a difficult conversation with a parent or teacher would provide needed support. If your mentee is nervous about a decision, you might choose to schedule a call to talk between visits.

You will find that the art of asking questions is also helpful in professional and personal relationships. People are more likely to come to you for help if you assist them in making their own decisions.

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