The Socratic method helping of helping people help themselves

Someone who read my book on Socratic Jujitsu - reached out to me to ask a question.  However, I had to engage in some Socratic questioning to get to the heart of what she needed help with.  I am sharing our dialogue here (with names changed to protect the innocent) so you can get a sense of how exactly this works - not just to help people help themselves, but also - to change the dynamic entirely.

First - a link to the book we are discussing.

PS - what you will notice - is that I give information - then ask a question. Often - people don't even know what they need to know and so they ask questions that are tangential to their real problem. By asking them questions, you can help them identify their real problem. This skills is useful for selling too by the way. 

As we both ask questions - the answers get longer and more thoughtful. We move past the surface to more deeper understanding. This is why this process is so useful and thought provoking. 


I recently completed your online book: "How to Win Arguments Without Arguing." It was an eye-opener for me and a wonderful paradigm shift!  I am so encouraged by the material in your book.  I especially liked the concise and straightforward presentation. Does your online class cover more material that might expand on the book


Hi - glad you liked the book and found it helpful. The video program is the same as the book. The book is basically - the transcript of the video - turned into a book. What you do get - is the slides from the presentation.  I believe if  you have amazon prime - you can view the video streaming. The expanded content would be - reality based decision making - where I talk more about the process of thinking through problem solving using humanistic critical thinking skills. Again, this is available as a book or an online course and streaming video. It's all the same information.

Did you have a particular question you want to ask - or a particular application of this you are curious about?


Hi Jennifer: I greatly appreciate your response. Yes, I did have a question.....not sure how you knew this! My question:   Until I read your book I didn't think it was possible to ask others about religious claims. Now, I think it is possible and could have positive outcomes for me (maybe others). Still, I am not confident.  What would you suggest as a good starting point?


A good starting point is to be genuinely interested in what they believe and why they believe it. Not to change their mind - but so you can learn. It's especially good if you can focus on overlaps between your values and theirs. What do you have in common - rather than what do you not agree on.

It's ok in these conversations to say things like - wow - that's really interesting - and I'm not sure what I think of that. Why do you believe that? Or - to me - it sounds like you are saying this (whatever this is), did I understand you correctly?  And if you did - and what they said sounds horrible - you can then still dig deeper to find out - what the underlying value is they think is served by whatever it is.  

When you approach these conversations as - what do we have in common - you can find that common ground - and it becomes much easier for them to accept your - statements of disagreement. Because now it's not you proselytizing - you are wrong and I am right. Now it's wow - it's interesting what you believe and why - but I still think differently.  Most people are curious why you think differently and are open to that learning. But ONLY if your purpose is honest and not manipulative.

Did you have a specific situation you were thinking about?  Because - the above is a general answer and may not have really helped you understand how to apply it to your specific situation.


I read and re-read your suggestions to let them sink in. I am especially intrigued with the idea of "finding what we have in common"-- And saying..."that's interesting, but I disagree.The paraphrasing sounds potent, too.

I am left wondering why I have never seen this approach modeled.... not even by seasoned debaters.  If you can suggest any youtubes of this approach or other recommended books, I would be grateful.

A specific incident recently:  A casual friend whose adult daughter is going through some very difficult health issues  and struggles with depression due to her disabilities said to me:  "if she would only believe in God, and pray, I believe it would help her."  I was silent but really wanted to understand how she arrived at this conclusion.

Any suggestion about a positive approach to this? I am humbled by your responses and grateful I found your book.


In your specific situation  - I wouldn't debate or even try.   Part of living humanistically - is approaching people with compassion.  I always try to think - what good do I want to come out of this situation.  In this case - you probably desire is to help her adult daughter, who is non-religious.  The mother is struggling out of love for her daughter.  And doesn’t know how to help her. And her religious approach might be making things worse.  At least - that is what I would be thinking.

Since my goal is to help the daughter - and by helping the daughter - help my friend - I wouldn't bother even discussing the religious issues. I would instead - focus on my goal - which is helping the daughter - and I would suggest - that perhaps - having the daughter have someone to talk to  that isn't her mother - might help her as people are sometimes more open with strangers than they are with family.   

So  - focus on the outcome you want - not the specifics of how you help them get there.  If you ask her - about her daughters beliefs - it might open up - the need to find help that is consistent with her daughter's beliefs and that - since you are also not religious - you might be able to help her find the resources that would work for her.  You can also offer to help the mother understand what sorts of things non-religious people find helpful when they struggle - so that she puts less pressure on her daughter to change.  This is a much more supportive approach than - debate.

I think the reason you don't often see debaters use Socratic method is because - they go in - intending to win. The Socratic method isn't about "winning. It's about supporting. It can still help change people's minds and attitudes - but you start from where the other person is - not where you want them to be.


My big take away from your comments was your sentence: "What good do I want to come of this situation."  Just asking that one question clarifies a lot.  I am not proud to say I hadn't thought of "start from where they are, not where you want them to go." Your responses have been more beneficial to me than you know.   Thank you.

Take away:

The reader started from a point of view of wanting to win arguments. At the end of the questioning - they were asking themselves a very different question. Not - how do I win, but what good do I want to have happen?  

Warning - if you ask me a question - expect to see our discussion show up in my blog.

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