Why I Don’t Always Give People An Answer

I have a standard leadership practice, which I repeat as often as possible. I don’t always give people an answer.

I’ve been using it for many years – as a leader, father, a friend, and a pastor. People come to me in each of these roles looking for answers, but I choose to respond different from what they might expect (or even want initially). 

I don’t always give people an answer.

  • As a pastor, people come to me for answers.
  • My boys, now grown, often still come to me for answers.
  • As a friend, people come to me for answers.
  • Still doing occasional counseling, people come to me for answers.
  • As a leader of a team, the team comes to me for answers.

In either case, I don’t always give people an answer.

I don’t try to solve their problems for them. That may seem hard to understand , maybe even cruel of me, unless you understand why I don’t.

Now, if there is a clear Biblical answer for their problem or issue, I give it to them, as I understand it. And there are certainly things, which are my responsibility and I have to make a decision. I make dozens of decisions everyday. I’m not afraid to be the deciding voice when one is required of me. In fact, truth be known and based on my personality, it would be natural for me to give answers. 

Yet, this discipline has served me well in leadership.

See, I’m talking about decisions, which are the responsibility of other people to make. These are the issues more difficult to discern. Things such as career choice decisions, the calling in life decisions, who to marry, how to respond to a marriage conflict, how to deal with difficult parents or children or friends, etc. – the unwritten answer type decisions. When there are multiple, seemingly good options available, I don’t try to solve their problem.

For those type issues, I probably have an opinion, but I almost never “have” the answer.

Instead, 

I help people discover a paradigm through which to make the decision.

  • I help them see all sides of an issue.
  • Through questions, I spur bigger picture thoughts about an issue.
  • I share Scriptures, which may speak to both sides of a decision.
  • As an outside voice, I become an objective listener.
  • I connect them with people who may have experienced similar issues.
  • Diagraming the problem, as I hear it, I hope them see an issue on paper. (This is one of my favorites.)
  • I help them learn to pray and listen for the voice of God.

And then I release them to make a decision.

Here is my reasoning, 

If I solve the problem for them (or attempt to):

  • I’m just one opinion — and I am often wrong.
  • They’ll resent me if it proves to be a wrong decision, and trust me less the next time.
  • It could mean they never take ownership of the issue.
  • They’ll likely do what they want anyway.
  • Valuable skills of listening to the voice of God could be missed. 
  • Personal experience will be lost. (And, that’s the best way we learn.)
  • They will only rely on someone giving them the answer next time, failing to develop real wisdom, which comes through years of wrestling through the hard decisions of life.

My advice – for leaders, parents, pastors and friends:

Don’t always give an answer – or at least not THE answer.

Help people form paradigms through which to to solve problems and make wiser decisions.

Ideally we want people to develop healthy decision-making skills. We want them to gain dependence on God and the acquired ability to seek and discern wisdom. If we always make the decisions for them – if we always tell them exactly what they should do – they become too dependent on others and may never develop fully into who God has designed them to be.

LEADERSHIP PODCAST: Catch up on our leadership podcast. Join me and Nate or Chandler as we unpack leadership issues in a short, practical ways. 

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • […] Why I Don’t Always Give People An Answer by Ron Edmondson […]

  • Bernard Fosu says:

    Thanks Ron for this insightful post. It is good to teach others how to fish than to hand them a fish to fry.
    As leaders, if we always listen to answer, we deny people the opportunity to reason things through themselves. I couldn't agree more with you that we need to "release people to make their own decisions." If we listen to understand, and ask thought provoking questions while providing pointers when needed, we will help people with something more than just an answer – a resource to find many more answers.

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