“What do you think?” Powerful question to ask employees

What do you think powerful question to ask employees Loan Tran

Managers don’t know everything, and “it’s okay!” [storytime]

Disclaimer: this is not Loan Tran’s story. So “my” and “I” in this article refers to Nicolas Thanh, who is contributing to this blog.

The first time I took a leadership position, my biggest fear was to not be able to answer a question from my employees. “What if one of my team member ask me a question I cannot answer?” I was terrified to lose face or get laughed at. Imagine your employee start thinking that you are incompetent.

So my response at that time was to over prepare everything and I was micro managing. I was drafting processes even before we had announced about the new challenge/project or goal. I was constantly on alert for some possible question that may arise and was drafting answers in advance… I lost a lot of energy and time on this.

And I remember that from day 1 as a manager, the dreadful question from one Employee happened: “I have a problem. […] what should I do?”

Arrrg… I didn’t plan anything for this! So I started panicking!! I rushed into finding a solution. But requests kept coming! At some point there were so many issues that I was completely overwhelmed.

Being stressed as a manager is the worst. But at that time, it helped me understand something. In fact, once too many problems were coming my way, I just attempted a desperate move: I just asked back my employee: “I don’t have any solution, so you will have to find one yourself. What would you do? How would you solve this problem?”

And something magical happened. This employee offered some suggestions, and they were pretty good, so I told him: “okay, do as you said.” And the problem was GONE!

That’s when I realized that as a manager, you don’t have to answer all the questions in advance. You can simply help your employees selecting their own suggestions of solutions to their own problems.

Ask employees this powerful question: “what do you think?”

In Loan Tran’s book, you can find some stories of how she also faced similar empowering moments when she would simply ask her teammates: “what do you think?”.

What is important to understand, as a leader or manager, is that your employees don’t expect you to do their job. When they come to you with some issues or problems, they usually just want to raise awareness that they are blocked in their ongoing operations (so that you don’t blame them later that it’s not done).

When this happen, you can either suggest some solutions or let them make a list. And then, help them to choose which one is best by concluding your list by this magical question: “What do you think?”

Practice immediately:

If you are a manager chances are you already have some problems on your plate to solve. So take some simple issues that are assigned to you and go ask your employees.

Discuss with them face to face if possible. This way you will be able to see them offering suggestions and the problem might just get off your plate in a snap.

When an employee offers some very bad suggestions:

  • Ensure to be clear and honest. Tell them it’s not a good idea; share with them your perspective with a question: “Have you thought of {the main problem if we agree with their suggestion} if we do as you said?”, “Can you suggest something else?”
  • But find the right words to show them that the door is opened to more suggestions and that you appreciate the suggestions.

When an employee refuses to offer any solution:

Try to find the reason why they behave like this. It’s probably not because they refuse to help you or disrespect you. They might not be used to offer solutions in their career, in their personal life or at your company. So help them to implement that habit.

The first step is to tell them what they could have suggested, and let them know that they can do it.

The second step is to keep suggesting but asking for their validation with the magical sentence: “how about solving this problem like this… what do you think?”

And finally, the last step is to ask them how they would solve their own challenges.

It might take only a week of close “coaching” of these employees for them to realize they can by themselves offer some suggestions.


The manager is not responsible to solve their employees problems, but rather challenge them to find solutions on their own and support them with this magical question: “what do you think?”

I decided to write on this after I read about this question on Loan Tran’s book. Please take the time to read it if you want to hear about her own story behind this magical and powerful question.

I hope this tips helped you. For more tips like this, or if you tried this tips but it still doesn’t work for your team, then please consider contacting Loan Tran for a free first consultation.