Stumped by a question?By Gary Cohen
Q: What should I do if I am stumped by a question?
A: "Be helpless, dumbfounded, unable to say yes or no." This line is from Jalal Al-Din Rumi's poem, "Zero Circle." As leaders, we are expected to have the answers. A quick answer, though, is not always the right answer. Give silence and thought to questions. In the process you will open yourself up to possibilities.
Oftentimes we want so badly to remove the discomfort that others feel from not being able to solve a problem. We absorb some of their discomfort, creating even more pressure for a quick answer. Pausing and considering the question from all angles can feel like needless delay. But sitting in that "helpless" liminal space can provide valuable insights. You might determine, for example, that the true nature of the problem is hiding behind a faulty question.
Not everyone can sit in limbo. When I feel stuck, I often reach for food. Others reach for cigarettes. Some reach for their to-do list to stay busy. Some reach for chemicals. You may call peers, mentors, or family to help you get your bearing and yet often all that is needed is stillness. Set down the phone, turn off the Blackberry, and ignore the tidal wave of incoming information. Sit still.
I once heard David Whyte recite a poem by David Wagoner called "Lost." The poem addresses the question of what to do if you are lost in the woods. Rather than run off in any direction, hoping it is the right one, the poem suggests you "Stand still. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you." Learn the forestâ€”tree by tree, gurgling brook by gurgling brook, mossy stone by mossy stoneâ€”before you act, so that you do not run in circles.
Do not let anxiety guide you. Take time to familiarize yourself fully with the problem before settling on an answer.