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Empowering Your People to Think For Themselves

There is often a temptation, once you’ve asked someone a question and  haven’t received an immediate answer to assume that either:

  • they didn’t understand the question and therefore you need to ask it again in a slightly different way, or
  • they don’t have any ideas or ‘the answer’ so you need to give them a solution.

The problem is that just as you get ready to do either of these things the person you’ve asked is probably getting to the point where they’ve thought about the question and they’re ready to respond with some ideas. As soon as you jump in again you are likely to break their train of thought and as a result they’re less likely to volunteer their ideas.

It’s much better in this situation to trust that the person has actually understood your question and accept that silence is a sign that they are ‘processing’. In this case the best thing you can do is to keep your mouth shut; live with the silence (they’re probably not even aware of it anyway as they are doing some thinking) and allow a few more seconds for them to work through their thinking process.

If you can do this you’ll often be amazed by the quality of response that comes back. By simply allowing space for someone to think things through without feeling rushed for an answer, more often than not they’ll come up with some relevant and ‘personally-owned’ ideas (rather than your ideas).

Similarly, some leaders are frustrated that their people don’t take more ownership for dealing with issues that come up. These leaders often have a queue of people outside their door waiting for them to solve their issues. As a leader, learning to give your people space and the permission they need to run through their thoughts and find their own solutions is both empowering and confidence-building. Instead of giving them solutions, ask them to imagine that you are not there and watch the queue outside your door disappear.

The net result will be:

  • Increased confidence for the individual in their ability to solve issues themselves
  • Less time for you spent dealing with your people’s ‘stuff’
  • A whole lot of new and different ideas being generated

In other words, you will be empowering your people to think for themselves.




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