Why Asking Questions Is The First Step To Giving The Best Advice

by Allison Isaacson
USA Network

Reaching out to others is smart; it is not a sign of weakness.

When someone confides in me, the friend won't hear another person whispering about his or her business because I won't reveal sh*t to anyone. It’s as simple as The Golden Rule.

This leads people to continue to confide in me, giving me more “references” of experience in life.

Through being exposed to other people's experiences and results, I add new references to my own arsenal of “experience.”

This allows me to be a greater source of wisdom and encourages friends and acquaintances to turn to me for direction or words of enlightenment.

One important thing I’ve learned is no one has all the answers about everything.

That’s why I ask so many questions when friends approach me about what they’re going through in their lives.

Here’s why: As a confidant, you'll be inevitably asked, "What should I do? What would you do?"

When this happens, steer away from providing black-and-white responses like, "I would do xyz because of abc."

There is a time and place to give direct answers to those questions, but try to avoid doing so regularly.

Instead of diving headfirst into “you ought to,” ask leading questions.

I help them draw their own conclusions and formulate their own solutions because then, you empower them rather than act as their perpetual crutch.

Giving advice without first garnering as much context as possible is like taking a test about a subject to which you’ve never been introduced.

Asking contextual questions enables you to grasp a better picture of the full situation and, thus, enables you to be more effective in "advice giving" or "leading question-asking."

The friend is simultaneously forced to recall each of these facts (revelations to you; reminders to him or her) as you ask questions, which grounds the friend more in logic and less in emotion.

You may sense a gap in friends’ perspectives of situations.

Ask questions that lead them to consider what they hadn't yet taken into consideration, or what your outsider perspective allowed you to see.

Ask purposely nuanced questions to dig down to the heart of the issues: “I understand you think he’s cute and charming, but is the girl you’re referring to his most recent long-term girlfriend?

Is she really trying to steal your man? Are you sure they broke things off? Have you considered he might’ve seen you as a flash in the pan from the start?

Or that he’s still telling her he loves her? Have you considered letting their relationship truly run its course before you go on another date?”

Simply open friends up to possibilities or realities to which they may have turned a blind eye.

Asking these leading questions often causes paradigm shifts. They take new “facts” (new to their consciousness, at least) into consideration, which means more possible scenarios and courses of action are developing in their minds.

Your friends are now less pigeonholed into “I've got to do either this or that.”

Your friends are now less pigeonholed into “I've got to do either this or that.”

So, why play devil’s advocate? Try to guide your friends’ lines of thinking down new avenues to more logical or realistic ones that are less emotionally steered by their hearts or impulses.

You're less likely to be emotionally invested in the situations, so you can serve as an anchor in storms as they reel through them, and as they seek catharsis, solace or solutions.

The ultimate goal and reason to ask leading questions is simple: The people confiding in you eventually come to their own conclusions rather than take what you “would do” as a game plan.

This allows friends to find, or to finally just accept, what their hearts and minds truly believe should be done. This way, they are more comfortable with whatever their next steps may be.

If you do eventually suggest options, be sure to put multiple routes on the table.

People have to make their own decisions if they will ever be in control of their own lives.

This way it’s never “Oh, hell, Allison said to do xyz and that blew up in my face. Thanks a lot.”

It's more likely, “Well, I tried to be truly thoughtful about this and gave it my best effort. Thanks for helping me think this through.”

The next time a friend or acquaintance confides in you and asks for advice, I hope you’ll help that person discover solutions for him or herself rather than give him or her a (possibly skewed) “cheat sheet” for life.

Your friend will be better for it. He or she will be more equipped in the future to trudge through sticky situations.

Help others expand their minds, and in turn, you’ll expand your own mind through the exposure to their experiences and lessons learned from them.

Nothing’s better than a win-win. Reciprocate the confidence entrusted in you.