To Tell or To Teach?

One question that our clients keep coming back to us with lately is: when do you tell somebody the solution and when do you teach them to find the answer themselves?

It is something that even after many years of working as a consultant can still keep you on your toes – to tell or to teach?

This is a challenge that arises for us when faced with the world of engagement and communications. Sometimes we want to build capacity and knowledge of our stakeholders so they don’t then need us next time (and that‘s perfectly okay by us!) and other times we just need our stakeholders to act and act quickly!

So what are some of the questions you can ask to help you determine the best possible course of action to determine when to advise, when to teach?

Here a few key lessons learnt from our experiences:

  • What is it that needs to be done and by whom? What’s the central objective here?
  • How quickly do actions need to happen? Is there an immediate risk to be addressed? Do you just need to do or is there time to explore further options?
  • Is there a possibility that whatever it is you need to address (the thing or the purpose) will arise again? How likely is it? Does capacity for an internal skill-set exist?
  • What does the tone of the brief tell you? Does your client just need an answer?
  • What do you know about the client as a person? Is understanding the how important to them and to their role and possible future roles?

There is no one perfect answer, but in a world where the desire to engage is growing every day the question to teach or to tell is one that seems to be on the tip of everybody’s tongue. What’s your best advice to determine which path to take?