The Power of the Question With the Millennial Generation

The Magic Pill. Isn't that what we want as parents and employers. We are seeking the solution to the challenges we have with raising our children and supervising our employees. I have just the answer. It is quit simple but grossly overlooked and even more difficult to perfect the art. It is the Power of Asking the Question.

As parents we are quick to give advice, reprimand, scold or make suggestions. As employers we are quick to bark commands, give ultimatums, demand quotas or impose warnings. None of these work... otherwise we wouldn't be frustrated, right? The Power of Asking the Question is truly the answer. I have seen miracles in my coaching by changing the paradigm from solving disagreements with confrontation and rebuttal. It goes on and on and two things happen. First, the problem or conflict escalates and takes the process to a more damaging conclusion. And second, the real issue is never discussed because neither party knows what it is.

I have witnessed a harmless conversation escalate where accusations are thrown in one direction and denial and cross-accusations are thrown back. Does any one really like being attacked or accused of something? Then why do parents and employers give themselves permission to confront our youth. No wonder they don't tell the truth. No wonder they don't come talk to us when they have a problem or recognize an error that they made. According to the Josephson Institute in California, 92% of our young adults have confessed that they have lied to their parents in the last year. Furthermore, a study reported that when 1,000 teens were asked, "who would you like to go to with a problem?", almost all of them reported "my parents". But when asked, "who do you go to?" almost all of them reported, "anybody BUT my parents". What does that tell us? It screams of their desire to be honest, to approach us with a problem but they don't feel safe. As a parent, ask yourself how many times has your teen confessed to making a bad decision and you took the position of trying to understand their pain rather than dominate the conversation with suggestions, disappointment, or reprimands? You have just closed the door the next time they consider confiding in you or telling you the truth.

Learning comes from self-discovery. An infant needs to take the bruises when they learn to walk. Our adolescents need to take the same bruises only the stakes are higher. Nothing we can do or say can replace their own self-discovery. One way of doing that is ASKING QUESTIONS. When you are barking back and forth with each other, there is no opportunity for the truth to surface. Taking a defensive posture will rarely open the door to awareness. Consequently, taking a position that creates a defensive response does not move either party towards awareness and conflict resolution. Asking questions and giving time for a response will. When a question is tossed over to our Millennials to consider, they are forced to reflect and respond. One does not need to be a psychic or an intuit to pull the truth from within. I rarely accept, "I don't know". I will ask, "if you did know, what would it be?" And remarkably there is always an answer. We are doing our youth a disservice if we don't empower them to take responsibility for their decisions. We strengthen those muscles when we exercise them by asking them questions.

Whether it is in the office or in the home, I have seen miracles by asking questions. A fallback method, a default mechanism to overcoming ALL obstacles is asking questions. Can you recall a challenging conversation that took a twist and you discovered that what appeared to be the issue wasn't the underlying problem. Like an iceberg, only a small percentage of our conscious awareness is above the surface. Lying below is a darkness that hides the truth. By asking the questions you dig deeper and deeper, exposing more and more layers of the onion, until you discover the truth. Again, with my coaching I have launched into a coaching session on a specific topic and find the core of the problem is entirely different. I recall my wife coming home from a hard day at work and venting on this and that and frustrated beyond measure. After time passed, I would ask, "and what is really bothering you?" After pausing, she would share something entirely different. You will learn that until you peel back the layers of the onion by asking questions you can argue and argue for hours, for months, for years and never scratch the surface. In fact you never come close to resolving the conflict because you never tackled it in the first place.

The solution is simple, developing the skill is difficult. Recognition of it is first. In a workshop, I rescued a parent and teen from strangling each other when they bantered back and forth with no resolve. I replaced the mother in the exercise and simply asked questions, only questions. After ten minutes or so, the teen changed before our eyes. Her resentment and anger dissolved. Her willingness to seek alternative solutions surfaced. Her smile returned to her face. I then asked the attendees to identify what was different. No one noticed. I finally resorted to spoon feeding the answer: I asked, "what is the percentage of questions that I asked to the percentage of statements I made?" The answers were mixed. 50/50. 60/40. 20/80. They were all surprised to learn that they witnessed, without their awareness, that I asked questions 100% of the time and made no suggestions or comments. Sometimes the easiest things to see are the most difficult to change. If you don't see them, they are impossible to change.

Practice asking questions. Consider the following:

Go get your coat./Do you think you will need your coat?

That was stupid. /How could you have done that differently?

I want you home at midnight./Is it unreasonable to ask that you be home by midnight?

I've told you this a million times. /Have we already agreed to this?

I don't trust you./Can you understand why I struggle with trusting you?

You are breaking the rules. /Are you aware you are breaking the rules?

Can you feel the difference on the "energy" of the two statements? Do you recognize

how one sounds combative and the other sounds supportive with a kinder approach? Do

you see how this could make a difference in communicating with your millennial? Do

you acknowledge you are going to have to really work at asking questions? Do you see

the merits in doing so? Did you notice this paragraph consists of 100% questions?

I didn't think you would notice. I mean, "Isn't it great you caught on so quickly?"

Mark Hughes is a parent and teen life coach and founder of The Karma Institute. Mr. Hughes holds workshops and speaks nationally on the topics of parenting teens, hiring Millennials, divorce recovery, and overcoming adversity. He can be reached at or at

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