The children’s story of The Three Bears offers valuable insight to preachers and teachers. Occasionally I leave a conversation berating myself, “Why didn’t I shut up sooner?” Sometimes I’m on the other end of an unending lecture, listening past my point of interest. Exceptional listening skills guide how you both hear and speak.

People who ask brilliant questions are often more successful than people who give brilliant answers. It’s like the old story about the difference between giving someone a fish and teaching her how to fish. One answer won’t make your career, but skillfully asking the right questions might.

Especially if the person you ask gives a great answer. There are four types of questions, my favorite being the request for information. It may seem counterintuitive, but questions have other motivations than simply getting an answer.

Discover the four types of questions in my free ebook, The Art of Getting to Yes – How Using Questions Correctly Inspires Action, Agreement, and Connection with Anyone.

Sometimes you get the opportunity to ask an expert a very important question. You care about the answer. Your interest is sincere and their guidance may help you choose the right path forward. You’re grateful for the opportunity.

Baby Bear Answers

You ask your question – and get a ten second answer. A quick overview that may suggest a direction or possibility, but not enough information to apply to your circumstance. The expert moves on. You’re frustrated.

Maybe you ask a friend a question. She knows more about the topic than you, so you inquire. Ask for guidance or advice. You get a little, but not enough to work with. You’re not sure enough to pose a second question, so you clam up.

Uh, thanks.”

Baby Bear answer are too small to matter.

“He who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.” – Confucious

Papa Bear Answers

Papa Bear answers not only answer your immediate question, but give the history of that person’s inquiry into the topic, personal stories, and often explore an entire warren of rabbit trails. Eyes glaze over and you stifle the impulse to interrupt –

Thank you. I got my answer. Please, please stop.”

Baby Bear answers are frustrating.

Papa Bear answer can be excruciating.

I admit, I’ve given lots of Papa Bear answers. Usually because I don’t know if the person who asked the question follows my answer. So, I add a bit more, hoping for feedback that tells me, “That’s what I wanted to know!”

When I don’t get much of a response I either add more or ask, “Does that make sense?

Which is another way of asking, “Are we on the same page? Am I answering the question you asked? Do you have enough?

This question is my own request for information. From the asker. Communication is a two-way street. Did I hear what you meant and do you hear what I intend to say?

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” – Robert McCloskey

Papa Bear answers can be evidence of speaking at cross purposes. What you asked isn’t what I heard, so I’m answering a different question.

It help to restate the question before answering. That way you’re both in the same conversation.

While not as obvious, many Q&As are little more than this:

How long until the next train comes?

About 193 miles.”

When I see a blank or confused expression it’s hard not to keep slogging onward. Often on the wrong track…

Papa Bear answers make you wish you’d kept your mouth shut.

Mama Bear Answers

The challenge to all who teach or preach is formulating Mama Bear answers – just right for the question. Providing a message or instruction that accomplishes the goal – and nothing more.

Mama Bears know their subject material well enough to communicate it simply. To summarize. They know when they hit the mark or need to expand. They notice when the inquirer is losing interest…

When you’re asked a question, do you offer too much, not enough, or what is just right?

Note to self: Increase diligence to get feedback before becoming Papa Bear. Ask if further explanation is desired. Be sure I’m answering the question asked, not just the one I heard.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Delight is getting – and giving – just the right answer.

If you suffered a Papa Bear answer from me in the past, I apologize. I’m working to be Mama Bear!

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