Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Worst Vice

There is an old saying that “the worst vice is ADvice” and if you have ever tried giving some at the wrong time then you might agree. In our quest to help others solve problems, we can often overstep what is needed or wanted at the time.

Socrates developed a system of conducting discussions using questions and inquiry that we now call the Socratic Method. Obviously, HE didn’t call it that – we named it after him. He called it (in Greek) “The Midwife Method”. He saw using questions as vital in asking a person to explore their OWN point of view more fully, and in that way he was helping “give birth” to a new perspective. Further, the person answering the questions was actually committing to the final outcome as they were developing the new perspective because it was THEIR OWN perspective. How could they not buy into it?

So, back to the point regarding giving advice, this method is very useful in that you are not TELLING someone what to do, but asking them and they are answering. Their answers bind them to the conclusion because…well, because they are THEIR answers.

“I can’t get along with any of my coworkers. I probably ought to quit!” Think of all the ways to respond when you hear that coming from a friend. You could tell them all about work being about income and not friends, or that the economy is so rough right now that it is a bad time, or that they could try X,Y, or Z to be more likeable, or that they should indeed quit. Would you be helping them to do the best thing for them, or just telling them what YOU would do?

Mediators (well versed in the Socratic Method) use methods to help the person “give birth” to a fuller perspective.

1) Asking “what makes you say that?” This simple sentence asks the person to describe a deeper level of the topic – the rezoning behind the statement. They may not be aware of certain things themselves and saying them aloud with you causes them to have to look at them in a more objective way.

2) Paraphrasing – not parroting. A good mediator will rephrase a person’s word into a question (NOT merely repeating them) in order to prompt them for amplification of the subject, It has much the same effect as asking “what makes you say that

3) Saying “tell me more”. This is not a question, but it is a request for more information just like a question is, and prompts the same response. ?” Variations on this include “so what you are saying is…..” or “if I understand you correctly, you feel that….”

One of the big breakthroughs for me was 25 years ago, using these methods. I learned that USUALLY, when I said “so what you are saying is…..” they would respond with “No... What I mean to say is…” The reason I was struck by this was that it meant I was usually WORNG in my interpretation and if I hadn’t asked for the clarification, I would have been down the wrong road. This was even in cases in which I was SURE I was right. It would follow that if I had not asked for clarification, I would have been giving advice based on my misunderstanding, not much chance in being useful.

Using the inquiry method is a proven way to improve the likelihood of being helpful and getting buy in from those with which you are advising.

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