The Most Brilliant Parenting Advice that also Works in Business

With one simple question, reduce misunderstanding and discover delight.

When I realized my grand plan to get married and have kids wasn’t going to manifest, I decided I would forge ahead on my own. For me, that meant doing research to learn parenting techniques and building a support system to help me make it happen.

I served on the board at our local Conflict Resolution Center (focused on mediation) and met a remarkable woman named Rainbow Markell. She was an experienced Early Childhood Education pro, and she turned me on to the RIE Method of child-rearing that I still use today in dealing with other humans.

Because her advice proved to be so powerful, I realized early childhood educators are like child whisperers. Their experience could reveal secrets we mere mortals might never know.

She set the stage for what happened next — another life-changing moment.

Around age three, when my daughter was in preschool, her teacher came up to me with an update.

“I need to tell you something I learned about your daughter,” Cari said. “She always surprises me.” (At this point, most of us parents know this is code for, uh oh). Cari continued.

“There’s the right way to do something and the wrong way, but with your daughter, there’s also the Katie way.” She hit the nail on the head. I hadn’t thought about it, but she was 100% right.

“Yeah,” I laughed. “I hear you. Imagine what happens at our house!” and I thought she was done. But she wasn’t.

“May I make a suggestion,” she asked. “When you see her doing something you don’t understand or if she’s resisting, just ask her this one simple question: what’s your idea? I think you’ll be glad you did.”

With that, she unlocked the one question I used for the rest of Katie’s life (so far). I also started using it as a leader and a collaborator. Its superpower is preventing me from assuming I know the reason for someone else’s answer or behavior. It immediately reduces, if not eliminates, resistance.

Seek to understand. It’s been my mantra.

The key is slowing down to engage with the person and listen to what they are thinking. It starts with embracing the idea that listening doesn’t mean agreeing. It means listening. It also means respect — which, coincidentally, is the basis of the RIE method.

We’re all moving fast, and we make many assumptions about other folk’s intentions and motivations. Don’t believe me. Just look at how much judging is happening on social media platforms. We quickly react based on our interpretation of what we’ve read, but so often, that wasn’t what the poster meant.

We use our personal frame of reference to pass judgment, and we all have biases that influence our interpretation. This is exacerbated as we deal with issues of race, culture, gender, sexual orientation…the list goes on and on.

By taking a beat, and maybe a deep breath, and asking, “What’s your idea?” you’re likely to discover new ideas, different approaches, acts of kindness, and good intentions you used to steamroll. With kids, it’s everything — and frankly, it’s the joy of being a child. With adults, it creates mutual respect and increased engagement because they are being heard.

My wish is we could all take the time to ask, “what’s your idea” so that voices are heard, and ideas are shared — such an easy thing to do.


Ask: This simple question, “What’s your idea?” may reveal motivation you didn’t anticipate.

When: Use it when you’d typically tell someone no, or not now, or to do something else.


· When a kid starts to get up from the table.

· When an employee or co-worker hesitates or demonstrates passive-aggressive behavior.

· When a loved one resists your suggestion.

Benefit: What happens next might stop you in your tracks. Rather than default to controlling someone by telling them what to do or squashing their energy, you’re revealing their intentions.

The child who’s jumping up from the table might just be grabbing the salt and pepper, not undermining a family meal. The team member who rolls their eyes or fails to deliver might be super frustrated about not feeling valued. The loved one you want to influence (control) might want to be heard and included.

With a master’s in Strategic Communication, I’ve helped more companies in Silicon Valley than a cat has lives! More

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store