Your questioning skills; how good are they? One of the challenges I frequently help leaders with is uncovering what’s really going on, as opposed to what they think is happening. There are several facets to this challenge, but one common aspect is quality questioning. By that, I mean asking questions in such a way that you connect honestly and authentically with others.
The power of quality questioning was brought home to me when I had an interesting consumer experience where the person asked poor questions and told me repeatedly he was my new best mate out to help me against his boss.
It became an almost surreal situation in which I repeatedly attempted to rephrase what I wanted, (which did not include getting one over on his boss), attempt to help him make a genuine connection with me and uncover what was really going on.
In the end, I chose to walk away as the level of honesty, authenticity and trust hit rock bottom. A frustrating experience as a customer but on the other hand it reminded me that this happens in a variety of work situations.
Whether, as a leader, you are talking to your staff, interviewing new staff or suppliers, or engaging with customers, it’s critical to make a genuine connection and then ask quality questions. Consequently, you’ll know what’s really going on, what’s really important and where you can be of most value right now.
Here are a 6 top tips, covering both the doing and the being aspects of quality questioning.
Ask open-ended questions – it’s the obvious one that we think we do and then when we’re observed find we don’t do it as much as we could. What, when, how are good starts to open-ended
The other aspect to avoid is leading questions, in high-risk situations, you’ll only ever hear what you want to hear by doing this.
If you ask an open-ended question and get silence that’s fine, give them time to think rather than think it’s your responsibility to jump in and provide multiple choice responses.
As long as you answer your own questions, why should anyone have to think of a response?
Be open-minded – If you think you know what the right answer or course of action should be then you’ll miss the signs that tell you other options or information is available.
Here’s a little exercise to illustrate how our mind works on this one. Next time you walk into a room look for everything brown. I’m sure you’ll spot a few things. Now walk out of the room and describe to me what items were red in that room. Will you get them all, very unlikely, that’s because you went in knowing what you were looking for.
Be curious – This ties with the above, but is more playful. Being open-minded lets you see more, being curious lets you ‘play’ with what you see. In effect, it stops you judging and reaching a premature conclusion.
Listen – Leaders who do all the talking are deaf to others. We all like to be heard and to feel our opinions matter; it’s a primary human trait. I know that I can talk hens and chickens to death and occasionally get on my soapbox and have a moment, and then I suddenly really see the person I’m talking to (or rather at) and realise I should shut up and apologise.
Now, fortunately, I also know how to listen at a very deep level, often called active listening. This means I hear what’s been said, the exact words, the tone, the accompanying emotion, and body language. In other words, I listen with my ears and my eyes. This means I can spot signals of things changing, no I don’t always know what the change is, but I’m aware that something shifted and I pay attention. This also helps me to listen to what’s not being said that should be.
Be genuine – When you ask your questions show that you care. It’s not an act like you care, as that’s inauthentic. If you care about the person, the subject, the company then let this show in the way you ask your questions. If you’re not bothered about the person, the subject or the company then don’t fake it, own it and move on.
Now I didn’t say you had to like the person I said care about them. So, I’m not suggesting that this is about becoming their new best friend. Lastly, if you’re on a witch hunt looking for someone to blame be honest about that. Your actions will betray you if you say you aren’t when really you are.
Go below the surface – Often we can make the mistake of taking what we hear at face value. We get an update that says all is fine and accept it. There are two possible issues here. The first is that the information we’re getting is top level. If we dug a bit deeper we might find out that everything is fine but the team has just averted a minor disaster. Or we may find that everything is not fine and a minor disaster is upon us, but the team doesn’t feel they can share the bad news with you. If that’s the case, then chances are you haven’t been doing the other tips mentioned above as well as you thought.
Not every conversation requires all the above, however, the more you practice, the better you get and then when things aren’t going well you have an idea where to start in order to improve things. Only you know if what’s at stake here is worth staying in the conversation for. In my recent personal example as a customer, in the end, the answer was no.
The only thing my new ‘best mate’ knew accurately about me was my name after that everything else was a figment of his imagination, somewhat vivid if I may say. As a leader please don’t let this be the sort of comment someone could level at you.
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