Every one of us has something to offer others. Help them with a problem, a challenge or a moment of opportunity.
It tells the other person that you’re interested in them. It positions you as someone who is open to providing value. And in the right circumstances, it can credential you as someone with the answers.
Here’s an example from my coaching client Charlotte. In meetings with her clients and co-workers, when an issue or need is expressed her ‘go-to’ reply is always the same. “How can I help you?”
To the listener, Charlotte is seen as a source of ideas. She is solutions rather than problems focused – a very rare commodity in business, politics and society in general today.
What usually follows this question is a reply that her offer is appreciated. People say, “Thanks, Charlotte. That’s very kind of you. Can we just kick around ideas for a few minutes?”
Now here’s the pivot moment that brings extra value. During the subsequent discussion, Charlotte concentrates on asking questions. She rarely offers opinions unless directly asked. Instead she helps the other person think Better! She provides presence, empathy, and appropriate distance while leading through targeted questions.
Here’s a quick example of a rather typical exchange over lunch with fellow manager, Michael.
Michael: “This new project has me stumped.”
Charlotte: “That’s interesting. How may I help you?”
Michael: “Thanks Charlotte. You always offer and I always appreciate it. I’m thinking on this current challenge, I’ve become so deep into the details that I can’t seem to see where it’s all headed. It’s all foggy to me right now.”
Charlotte: “I hate feeling like that. Would it help if you took a deep breath and walked me back through what this project is intended to accomplish?”
Michael: “Yes, thanks. Let’s do that, if you don’t mind.”
For the next five minutes, Charlotte remains completely focused on Michael’s words, She is completely present. And where appropriate, she asks simply, direct guiding questions.
As they finish their lunch, Michael tells Charlotte that he feels better about what he needs to do next to get the project back on track. He thanks Charlotte for helping him regain perspective by encouraging him to start back at the beginning to regain his lost perspective.
All Charlotte did was give Michael a chance to talk about his issue, but Charlotte’s approach of asking guiding questions caused Michael to ‘think better’ about his project. She helped Michael add a step or two of distance and to thereby see the issues from a better perspective. Charlotte didn’t offer one specific suggestion. She used questions to help Michael arrive at his own Better! perspective and action plan.
Follow Charlotte’s example and make “How may I help you?” become your automatic response to others in need. See how it works out for you.
And if you want to go deeper, read David Rock’s powerful book “Quiet Leadership”. You’ll learn a great deal more about how and why the approach of guiding questions works.
John J. Hall, CPA, is an author, speaker and results expert who presents around the world at conventions, corporate meetings and association events. Throughout his 38-year career as a business consultant, corporate executive and professional speaker, John has helped organizations and individuals achieve measurable results. He inspires audience members in corporations, not-for-profit organizations and professional associations to step up, take action and “do what you can.”