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The art of not answering questions

(work in progress)

If you are coaching or mentoring anyone, you’ll get called upon to help solve problems, answer questions. Broadly speaking there are 2 ways to handle this, assuming you know the answer:

  • You answer the question
  • You don’t answer the question

Letting your colleague discover the answer with your help stimulates deep learning, boosts confidence, engagement and curiosity. It also creates a safe environment. In contrast, just answering the question doesn’t do these things, but is also a crucial at the right moment.

Not answering the question

This approach is by far the best for accelerating learning in whoever you are guiding. As a coach, this is a much more exhausting and slow process though. If you need things to be done fast, this is not your best strategy. In any other situation it’s almost your duty to level up your colleagues and apply these things

Asking questions back

Instead of answering outright, you respond with a question. Sometime the question is to figure out the baseline: “what do they know already”. Once you know, you can proceed with asking questions just outside their current knowledge. You can also ask leading questions that will get them closer to the answer.

Giving Tips

Sometimes the best answer is “Have a look at line 71”. or “Have a look at this resource, it will explain what you need”. Both will empower the learner to come up with the answer instead of you.


Don’t do this.

Answering the question

Sometimes the answer is a piece of knowledge that can’t be discovered, or there is time pressure… Sometimes answering with the answer is the best approach.