How someone asks you a question tells you what is they’re seeking from you: validation, or a solution. If you answer a validation seeker’s question with a solution oriented response (or vice versa), you’re apt to wind up with a dissatisfied client, reader or customer, even if your response was spot-on and top notch.

Discerning between validation seeking and solution seeking questions saves you and the client (or reader or customer) a heap of frustration, not to mention wasted time or money. Here’s your quick guide to knowing which is which.

Solution Seekers want information, guidance or direction.

They’re seeking a way to find an answer, a resource to guide them in their next steps, or additional information to help them orient themselves regarding an issue.

It’s typical for Solution Seekers to include some background or context for their question, certainly. The key is that the context sets the stage for the question, but is not itself the main focus.

For the Solution Seeker, asking you the question makes space for her to receive input or direction. Her main drive is to fill in an existing blank in her information or experience so she can move ahead.

Validation Seekers want to be heard and affirmed.

They’re seeking permission to be where they’re at. They may also simply want to be told that their experience is valid. But it’s hard enough for someone to realize that’s what she wants, let alone to ask specifically for that–so validation seekers often arrive cloaked in a question that sounds, on the surface, to be solution oriented.

Here’s how you know that validation is at the heart of the matter: Validation seekers ask their question in a way that puts their story at center stage. Their narrative isn’t there to give context to the question; it’s there because telling the story is the important part of the communication. For that reason, it’s often difficult to even discern what the question really is, as it may be buried somewhere in the midst of several paragraphs of story.

For the Validation Seeker, asking you the question makes space for her to share her story. Her main drive is to be heard and affirmed.

Learning to discern this difference allows you to focus on serving the people who are most ready and able to receive your help.

A Validation Seeker is not the right client for a solution-focused service provider.

If you are an solutions-oriented, action-focused coach, you may have the urge to help a Validation Seeker. You may see all kinds of places in her story where you could help her reframe, take some action, and get some traction. Then she wouldn’t feel so stuck! She’d move forward, out of her current story, and into something even better… Win-win, right? Probably not.

Here’s the mismatch situation that occurs:

Your client yearns to be heard and affirmed, but you keep telling her to shift and act and try new things! She feels like you’re not really listening so she keeps repeating her story to you. And all you want is for your client to give just one of these solutions a try, but she keeps circling back around to the same story! You wonder, why won’t she just move on?!

Likewise, a Solution Seeker is not the right client for a validation-focused service provider.

Let’s suppose you’re a coach whose natural gifts are making space for people to open up, be heard, and deeply process their current emotions. You see the Solution Seeker’s situation rife with places they could benefit from exploring their backstory and really, deeply being heard. Then they’d be able to see the answers for themselves so much easier, and that’s a good thing, right? Good intentions abound, but again, this isn’t a good fit.

Here’s the mismatch situation:

All your client wants is some actionable information, some detailed guidance about where to go next, but you just keep telling her you hear her and she’s okay where she is! She feels frustrated that you’re not helping her move forward. And all you want is for your client to open up and allow the process to give her a deeper sense of clarity and self-trust, but she just keeps focusing on the need to move on. You wonder, why is she so focused on moving forward when she hasn’t even learned to be still?!

Mismatches, however well intentioned, are still mismatches.

Click to tweet it!Good intentions alone don’t deliver great results. There is more to serving well than simply meaning well.

Reserve your gifts–and answers–for clients who are most able to receive and use them.

Your mission on this earth is not to serve everyone, everywhere. Your focus, time and energy are finite. Reserve them for the clients, customers or readers who are asking the kinds of questions that indicate they’re open to and ready for the gifts and services you offer.