Can you actually help people by just asking them questions?

This week as part of our 5th Anniversary Celebration I am sharing the top 5 Posts of the past 5 years!  Here is # 2:

Congratulations to my friend Bob Tiede on the 5th Anniversary of his terrific blog:  

I am a big fan of helping people gain perspective – especially self-awareness.  Questions seem to be one of the best tools available to help in the drive for understanding perspective.  I use questions when I coach for a couple of reasons.

  1. Questions help me understand what the person knows and expects (and can help their own self awareness).  My son wanted to go into my workshop and cut a piece of 2×4 with my Electric Circular Saw for a fort he was building.  He was 8 and I wanted to make sure he understood more than the mechanics of using a saw.  So we went out to the garage and I asked him, “What steps will you take”.  He quickly began to show me – He put on goggles, plugged in the saw, tested it and then placed the 2×4 on his leg to cut.  As you can imagine – I jumped in and had a teaching moment – who knows what he would have cut off.  Often times when we tell people how to do something we assume they are listening.  I like questions (and sometimes observation) to help me understand their level of readiness and understanding for the task.
  2. Questions can also help the person through the “fog” of options that have slowed them down.  I explain this in my blog post that Bob published, Can You Actually Help People By Just Asking Questions. (shared below)

Finally, I have discovered that the structure or phasing of questions.  When someone has made a mess or mistake, I don’t ask – “Why did you do that”?  That feels like judgment and they probably hear – “How dumb are you”.  Instead I would say something like, “Help me understand the process that led you to that decision”?  I may discover something new and they probably will also.  Often times when they say it aloud – they see their flaw and I don’t need to say anything else.  

Hal Mayer

Guest Post by Hal Mayer

Over the years I have discovered when people bring me their problems and ask for help, if I am able to use this questioning model – it is a win/win.  Here is an actual coaching conversation I had with an individual in front of 70 people.  I was attempting to model how to use questions to lead.  I have changed names, except mine.

Hal:  Who has a real problem or situation they are struggling with and would like some coaching?  I will not embarrass you.  Tanisha raised her hand and I invited her to the front.

Hal: Tanisha, what is the problem you would like some help with?

Tanisha: I am the children’s minister here and I need more volunteers.

Hal: Ok. Let’s talk about that. Let’s set a goal for the meeting. Can we do that?

Tanisha: Yes, if you could help me get 10 new volunteers; that would make a productive day for me.

Hal: Let’s clarify our goal a little bit. What can we do in this meeting that will help achieve your goal? We are not going to call people and list them here. So, what could we do?

Tanisha:  Okay.  If I could leave with a couple good ideas on how I could enlist new people that would make for a productive meeting.

Hal: Perfect! Let’s go. Tell me what is happening now in children’s ministry and what you have tried?

Tanisha: The church is growing fast, we have been adding services and are behind on enlisting children’s leaders, we lost some people too moving away. All this happened at a really crucial time and I needed to build the children’s pipeline back up. I tried pulpit announcements and e-mails and it hadn’t worked and I need something new to do.

Hal: Let me ask you this question. If you could try and do anything,  and money was not an object what would you to do find new volunteers? Would you mind if I write these down – I will give the sheet to you at the end?

Tanisha: OK. Anyone who volunteered to serve I would buy them movie tickets.

Hal: Alright lets build a list, What else?

Tanisha: I would give them $100.00 to serve.

Hal: OK. What else?

Tanisha: We could give an announcement from the pulpit.

Hal: Anything else?

Tanisha: We could send an e-mail with a link they could click, which, would reply, back to my leaders and me.

Hal: OK, Anything else?

Tanisha: We could have lemonade stand in the lobby during all the services and staff it with kids and workers and have applications available?

Hal: OK, Anything else?

Tanisha: I could hall tackle 3 people a week and ask them if they would serve?

Hal: Alright, anything else?  At that point she was out of ideas.  I said, OK, let’s talk about these.  I read and show the list to her; you mentioned offering movies tickets, paying people $100.00 to serve, a pulpit announcement, sending an e-mail, a lemonade stand, and you mentioned hall tackling people. Which one of those interests you and you would like to talk further about?

Tanisha: I would really like to talk about the lemonade stand.

Hal: Ok, tell me about your ideas for the lemonade stand? (I continue to take notes)

Tanisha: We would give free lemonade and staff it with kids and workers. We would have a video running in the background about our ministry and applications available to complete.  We would focus on talking to people who would stop and look.

Hal: If you did this, when would you do it?

Tanisha: This is Tuesday; I would do it this Sunday.

Hal: Wow, that is a quick turn around. What would you need to get ready?

Tanisha: I would need a TV from AV and get it set up. I would need to enlist people to be there and would need the lemonade.

Hal: Is there anything else?

Tanisha: No, I think that is everything.

Hal: Is there anything that could derail this plan? Something unforeseen and she thought for a moment.

Tanisha: Well, I better involve leadership and make sure they are on board with this plan. I don’t want to move forward if there is a problem and we need to cancel.

Hal: That is a good plan. Anything else?

Tanisha: No.

Hal: Alright, here is the deal. (I show her my notes again) You said, you will set up a lemonade stand and staff it with kids and workers, have a video in the background on how exciting it is to work in children’s ministry. Have applications available to get people started with volunteering. Right?

Tanisha: Yes.

Hal: And, you are going to do it this Sunday?

Tanisha: Yes.

Hal: And, you have the things you need?

Tanisha: Yes.

Hal: OK, when you do it, I am not going to be here, but would you to take a picture and tag me on Instagram.

Tanisha: Yes!

Hal:  (Show her the notes again) Did we reach our goal? Our goal was to get an idea or a few ideas?

Tanisha: Yes, we did.

Hal: (Debrief for those wondering why I did each level)

The meeting took about 20 minutes. I began with the question, “ tell me what is going on?”  Let them say what their needs are. This will allow them to draw focus on their challenge. Then ask, Let’s set a goal.  What is important with the goal is to set one, which can be completed in that meeting. Then talk with them about what they have tried and the things that are happening within the ministry.  Then ask them, “If money wasn’t an object what would they try?” The reason for these questions is to listen, build a list and not evaluate by saying no. I don’t want to qualify their ideas.  I only write them down. I always ask permission to take notes, because I give them a copy of the notes.

This helps to get the flow going as long as I am not evaluating their ideas. People may begin with ideas they often know will not work. But, it is ok to let them get it out of the way.   They will continue moving down the list and I will ask many times, “is there anything else?” I may ask them this 10 times. It may feel like I am asking the question a lot but it doesn’t feel that way to them. Then I would read the list back to them and ask, “Any one of these interests you?”

Then they will talk about the one they are interested in. The key to understand is people are going to do the best work on what they are interested in not necessarily what you think is the best idea. As long as it makes sense and it fits within our vision, that is OK. Their buy-in is the key.

Then I help them set some objectives. I ask, “ What would it take to get this idea ready”?  They would make the list. Then I would ask, “What could happen that might block this?” They may not have thought of something. They may mention a few thoughts and you would talk through those challenges and solutions. Afterwards, you say, OK, great! Let me know how it goes.

I used questions the whole way through, not to tell Tanisha what to do; she was the expert but to help her work through the maze. What happens often time for leaders is we get this haze going and this mist where it is hard to see what is going on. With questions we can help them draw focus.  You will notice that I did not qualify anything she said, I did not pick the item she wanted to work on.  All I did was ask questions to help her draw focus. It is often the case a few weeks after the meeting.  They will try to contact me, but I am unavailable and they begin to ask themselves the same questions. What they realize is that they do not have to ask Hal the questions. They can ask themselves the questions. Then they begin what is called self-coaching. Just a few ideas I have used to coached individuals and I hope you find these helpful.







Hal Mayer


Hal Mayer is the Executive Pastor of at Church of the Springs in Ocala, Florida.  He has invested many years training and developing training leaders to succeed in ministry and the workplace.  He writes a Blog with the intent of helping leaders gain perspective at: You can also find him on Twitter and Linked-In.  Hal and his wife Sandy has two married adult children and 4 Grand Kids they adore.


75 Best Sales Questions to Close More Deals

Guest Post by Paul Cherry Have you ever faced a situation where the sale seemed to be just about sealed,...

10 Questions to Ask Your Mom or Grandma on Mother’s Day

My Mom, Clara Tiede, was the best Mom I could have ever had.  With one year of Junior College she became a...

5 Questions for Helping Others with their Struggles

Guest Post by Dr. K. Shelette Stewart A few years ago, when I resigned from my leadership role at Harvard...

4 Best Icebreakers For Team Meetings

Guest Post by Dr. David Burkus Originally posted @ Icebreakers are not just games or...

Do You Have a Hard Time Saying “No”?

Excerpted from Chapter 24 of “Now That’s a Great Question.” Click HERE to listen to Chapter...

Four Words

Excerpted with the permission of the authors from Chapter Three of Power Questions: “Four Words. ...

You need Questions…. Not Answers….Start here

Guest Post by Diana Kawarsky You’re a new hire in financial services, maybe an Analyst or Associate who...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.