It is well known that Socrates taught his students in unconventional ways by guiding them through a series of introspective questions, a system that is known today as Socratic dialogue. His aim was to get them thinking and strategize possible solutions, rather than providing direct answers. This is a valuable technique for problem solving and one that we can easily implement in our daily interactions.
For example, when we are in a conversation with our colleagues, friends, or family and they have a decision to make, we tend to offer immediate feedback and often give an opinion based on our personal experience. We look at things from our point of view but this advice may not resonate with the other party.
A much better approach would be to help them draw conclusions based on their personal knowledge. How can this be done? Just picture the situation: a person comes to you for advice, but instead of giving them some ideas, you say something like, “Tell me more about what’s going on”. They key is to take the time to listen with an open mind and respect their silence. Perhaps pause for a few moments to let the question sink in without offering any suggestions or comments. You might follow this up with another question such as “What are your options?”. Remember, don’t offer any ideas, just listen and be attentive.
Continue to pose open-ended questions to help them further develop this idea. These might include, but are not limited to:
- What else can you do?
- How do you see this evolving?
- What obstacles do you foresee?
- How can you overcome them?
In asking thought-provoking questions and listening carefully, you are giving them the opportunity to analyze and creating a space for reflection to explore new ideas.
After posing these questions, it's important to listen with the intent of understanding and not with the intent to reply. A good listener will ask the proper questions and act as a sounding board that doesn’t judge, contradict or criticize. Good listening leads to accuracy and understanding. As a result, your interlocutors will open up to new ways of thinking and be better able to assess all of their options.
Helping others to harness the power of deep thinking will empower them to derive their own solutions and enact a path forward. Formulating unique ideas through self-reflection and creative problem solving will inspire them to take actionable steps and implement change. All you need to do is ask a few questions and listen with intention.