What If #3 – No Telling

What If #3 – No Telling

What if we all refrained from telling people what to do, how to do it, how they should behave, and so on? Outrageous! Would the world collapse in chaos and disharmony? Or would people just get on with things and sort things out between them?

Definition: Here I’m using “tell” in the sense of : instruct, order, judge, announce, analyse, advise or proselytise.

Here’s some fundamental shifts that not telling might imply:

No More Consulting

The entire consulting industry is predicated on telling people and organisations things. I’ve long felt this creates situations dead set against what the folks involved would generally like to have happen.

No More Training Or Teaching

At least, we would see an end to the tedious and unproductive style of training based on lecturing (telling) from the front of the room. This might provide an opening for more effective means of helping people learn.

“You know that I don’t believe that anyone has ever taught anything to anyone. I question that efficacy of teaching. The only thing that I know is that anyone who wants to learn will learn. And maybe a teacher is a facilitator, a person who puts things down and shows people how exciting and wonderful it is and asks them to eat.”

~ Carl R. Rogers

No More Experts

Experts love to tell people things. Like what they should be doing, what they’re doing wrong, and how to fix it.

“Labelling and diagnosis is a catastrophic way to communicate. Telling other people what’s wrong with them greatly reduces, almost to zero, the probability that we’re going to get what we’re after.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

We might not see an end to experts, but we might see a shift in their style of interaction. Perhaps something more Socratic?

No More Managers

The commonest role of any manager, in practice, is to tell. Absent telling, would managers have anything to do that we could recognisably label as “managing”?

No More Process

“Process”, by and large, has come to mean coercing, obliging or otherwise telling folks what to do and how to do it.

More Therapy

The therapist’s stance is by default one of refraining from telling people things. Of encouraging people to find their own answers. Of simply being there, rather than being there to tell.

How do you feel about the whole issue of telling? And has this post brought to mind any other shifts you might be willing to share?

– Bob

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened



  1. While I like some of the ideas in here (and as a process consultant I’m clearly biased in some respects!) two things spring to mind. The first is how this works for those people who prefer to be ‘told’ much of the time – if you no longer have those things that meet those people’s needs you’ve done them a disservice even if you’ve paved the way for the rest of us – my experience has shown me that there are far more people out there who want a relatively easy life and prefer to be advised, guided etc. than who want to be free to follow their hearts and feel the pain themselves.

    The second is how fine the line is between advising and facilitating or even proffering options – my preferred style of consulting is to give people ideas around which they can build answers to their problems – I’d like to think that I’m facilitating as opposed to selling a solution.

    The bit I completely agree with is the notion of managers telling – especially in the context of folk with less knowledge, experience and even common sense barking instructions and mandates. And it’s those kind of managers who almost invariably won’t go and find their own solutions to their problems and continue to ‘manage’ the way they think they are supposed to – and so the vicious circle continues.

  2. Ahtesham Kazi said:

    I think without process people may go into chaos. Its good to assume people will behave. However they may not.

  3. For the self motivated this would be a boon. For the uninitiated…. chaos.

    • Would you place yourself among the self-motivated or the uninitiated?

      – Bob

  4. Tobias said:

    On No More Consulting… I don’t like the overuse of Coach to describe the work I do (it’s also not accurate), so I resort to Consultant. Facilitator works sometimes, but that is just one part of what I do. Consultancy has a bad reputation, I know, but not if you read Peter Block—his work resonates, and he describes himself as a consultant.

    On More Therapy… Not sure I like that. My own experience of being in (psycho)therapy was really quite meaningless. It was expensive and useless. I don’t think much of what (at least to people in the USA) goes by the name of therapy. Most of it is psychoanalysis, which really is mumbo-jumbo pseudoscience. There are therapy styles like SFBT and HG that resonate much more, but most don’t really know about. What kind of therapy are you talking about here? Is there a less-weighted word to be used? Or maybe, like “consultancy” we need to recreate this word.

    • I share your frustrations with the lack of a word to describe what I do. I use “organisational therapist” almost in despair of being able to help people understand what I do. “Playing with organisations” is the closest I have come, but I don’t know of a word for someone that does that. Did you see: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/my-organisational-psychotherapy-toolkit/ – that post attempts to describe what I’m talking about when I use the word “therapy”. (Other posts attempt to describe the therapy experience.)

      I’m all up for finding a new word. Yet, words mean so little, in the scope of things? It’s the normative experience that folks relate to, in the end.

      – Bob

      • Tobias said:

        I have now. I like what you cover there—it’s incredibly extensive, and I am not familiar with all those models/methods/ideas, but from what I do know, it resonates.
        Therapist, I could buy into, as it is a fairly generic term, but psychotherapist (especially in USA) is riddled with phony practice and more typically perpetuates mental illness rather than helps.

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