If your intention is for people to have insights they take full ownership over and act on, is it better to ask a question or make a strong declarative statement? You might think you know, but you would be surprised by the answers.
About six months into his coaching engagement, John* had a massive epiphany. When I met him, he sought to make a transition from securities law into private equity. When he shared his insight, I said, "that's pretty much what I thought you'd say, thirty minutes into our first meeting", to which he replied, "why didn't you say anything then?" So, I finished with, "you know why!" And frankly, so do you.
John took action on his insight that day, and went on to create an innovative and very successful private equity firm. You might not be surprised by that revelation. I'm not. But there is an interesting twist to the story.
When I began facilitating over 20 years ago, a mentor introduced me to the Socratic method, which is a derivative of the heuristic learning model. Adults generally learn best, retain more and execute more superlatively when they do so with self-generated insights. These insights are often the result of insightful questions. John came up with the insight himself and acted on it himself. And he prospered as a result. My job is to think up the cool questions.
So, here's the twist. Just because I anticipated the key to John's transition, does not mean I was right. It just means I had the same thought that he did. Being right is not the point. It's not my place generally to give people answers, lest I rob them of the pleasure of their own learning and risk biasing or distorting the process. The Socratic method is not an irritating game of "see if you can guess the right answer." Sometimes I just want your opinion.
For example, if I ask you what the best color is, you will likely say blue. I know this because I have asked this question dozens of times and the response is always blue. But the right answer, clearly, is purple, so when you give the "wrong" answer, I then say, "what's an even better color closer to the red spectrum?" That is my way of getting you to the right answer on your own, which is to say it's my way of getting you to my answer.
Socratic method is not a way for me to tease the "right" answer out of you. It's a way to tease your answers out of you. If you say blue, a better response from me would be, "that's interesting, why is that the best color?" Now we have an investigation and a series of nested question drilling down to something meaningful not to me but to you, because, really, who gives a shit what I think? You are the one that has to execute.
There are at least three answers to the question I led off with, and I know this because I have also asked this question dozens of times: ask a question, make a statement or it depends. Sometimes an assertive declaration leads to the insight if the person issuing it is a subject matter expert or is just a credible authority figure. If someone is in danger, I am not likely going to lead them out of it socratically. For me, generally, it does depend.
So I have a question: why have you not bought my book yet? I have priced each book at $19.64. I invite you to either order yours here, or write me and let me know why you haven't (I can take it): firstname.lastname@example.org. I spend a lot of time writing and I don't just do it for my health. If I missing something let me know! If you do reach out, I will share my all-time favorite question that always works.
*John has given me permission to share this story.