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A magical question

Sometimes people ask us to help solve their problems or offer an opinion. As their boss, consultant, colleague, parent, the good friend that we are... What's a good approach to helping them?

At a village in Zambia…

On her mission to fight sex trafficking, Gloria Steinem visited a rural village in Zambia and met with a group of women to enquire about three girls who had disappeared the year before due to sex trafficking.

She asked the women what it would take for this to never happen again.

They suggested an electric fence around the village would solve the problem, explaining that elephants were eating their corn and trampling their crops, leaving them with little to eat or sell at the market. These young women and their families were desperate – they had no choice but to leave the village to find food. Steinem raised money to build the fence. When she visited the village a few years later, there was a bumper corn crop and no women had been sex trafficked since the fence was built. Problem solved.

A magical question

Sometimes we are called to solve problems on behalf of others. As consultants, managers, experts, parents. When called in to save the day we often get caught up in our expertise and forget to ask one simple, yet most powerful question: “What would it take?” By asking this question, we open the door to communication.

We show respect.

We invite the other person to share proprietary knowledge – knowledge we may never get otherwise. Knowledge only they have as they are the ones who know the problem and its complexities best. What’s more, when someone gives you a roadmap and you follow it, they have already committed to becoming part of the solution. It also helps in reframing the problem and finding a better problem to solve.


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