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Games Socrates played

My boss, Rob, always to asked “Socratic” questions when I came to him with a question.

And, frankly, I hated it. I dreaded going into Rob’s office.

One day, after spending 20 minutes with him trying to answer his Socratic questions, I burst out, “Look, just tell me the answer! I know you know, so tell me!”

Surprised, he leaned back, “Why do you think I know the answer?”

“Of course you know the answer, you’re the boss! You gave me the assignment. Stop playing games and tell me what you want.”

“I know AN answer, but I don’t know THE answer, and my answer might be wrong. You’ve been working on the project for a week, so I trust your ideas more than mine.”

Instantly I saw things differently.

My mental of “this is a pointless quiz game” changed to “he wants me to decide because I’m in the best position to decide.”

Which, then, lead to the epiphany: “He’s not asking because he wants me to know, he’s asking because he doesn’t know.”

After that, he still used the Socratic method with me… but I used it with him as well.

Realizing that he didn’t know things, and it wasn’t a “guessing game” with one “right answer” changed my behavior and our relationship dramatically.

He became one of my favorite bosses to work for because we both learned to admit what we didn’t know.

I wish, though, that he had told me upfront why he was asking me those questions.

Admitting he didn’t know (or didn’t think he had the best answer,) would have turned it from a “quiz game” to a “problem-solving session.”

Asking questions is a powerful way to help your team reason and think, but be open with them about where you stand, and why you’re asking.

Then the game will be more fun for everyone.


About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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