The A.R.T. of Questioning Others – (Part 3 of a 4 Part Series)
Asking great questions is an art. Questions have to be simple, well thought-out, and you have to be patient. The challenge for most leaders is that in coaching conversations they get impatient. Task-driven leaders may approach these types of conversations as an item to check off their to-do list. They may assume that they know what the other person is thinking and so they don’t need to hear it from them. Finally, they might ask closed-ended questions that can be answered “yes” or “no,” so they force the person to the conclusion or result they want.
It’s like a bad leadership scene from Office Space.
It sounds something like this:
Leader: “Did you know you were missing the cover sheet on your TPS Reports?”
Leader: “Did you get the memo on the new cover sheet for the TPS Reports?”
Leader: “Well make sure you read the memo and get it right next time.”
Leader: “Glad we had this chat!”
Employee: “Me, too.”
Please don’t confuse this with a coaching conversation to understand the other person’s perspective or what happened; this is simply manipulating the other person to control them so you can get what you want.
Another type of interaction that happens with leaders who are impatient or don’t like silence is to ask questions, and when they don’t get an immediate response, they attempt to answer the question for the other person by giving them choices or extrapolating on the question. Again, this is manipulative, even though the facade is meant to look as if the leader is supporting the employee and trying to help.
It sounds something like this:
Leader: “So I was wondering why you took the flux capacitor and moved it to the other side of the room?”
Employee: “Wellllllllll…” (or dead silence)
Leader: “Was it because you thought that is what needed to happen, or was it because you weren’t sure what to do? Did you think about how it would impact others? Or did you not even consider the impact on the rest of the team? Why didn’t you ask for my input? You know you can always ask me for help if you need it!”
Employee: “Well I thought…”
Leader: “You know you can talk to me, I will listen because my door is always open, just tell me what you need! This was a great conversation and don’t forget I am here for you, just let me know how I can help.”
Employee: “Wow, thanks again for your help, I always feel so much better after our chats!”
Overexaggeration, maybe…however, some rendition of this conversation happens more times than you may believe.
Another important factor to consider when asking great questions is the size and dimension of the question. You could see in the previous example that the specificity of the question and the eventual narrowing down of the question as the leader drove them toward the specific response they were seeking. The Art of the Question is always about starting off with questions that are big, vague, and general in nature.
- So what happened?
- That sounds interesting…what happened?
- Can you help me understand what happened?
- How are things going?
- Can you say more about that?
These questions allow the person being coached to go anywhere they want to go in the conversation. One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is when they think they know what is going on in the brain of the employee. In fact, a great many leaders pride themselves on the idea that they do know. The truth of the matter is that you don’t have a clue what’s going on in another’s mind, you can only project your own thoughts and ideas onto them. And, yes, that would be your ego getting in the way of truly understanding what the person is thinking, their thought process, or their approach to the issue.
When it comes to influencing others through the coaching model, you need to take into consideration the Beliefs, Behaviors, & Results Model we discussed at the end of Part I on page 79.
If you want to influence your employees to change and sustain that change, you have to understand what they actually believe about something. You can’t do that by trying to guide their thought process, or get them to respond in a specific way that is simply reflective of your beliefs.
Taking the time to understand what the person is thinking seems like a lot of work in the short-term, but the long-term payoff is extremely high, because you are influencing their beliefs and what they think. If you can get those aligned, the behaviors and results will follow.
It is better to ask more questions in a staged process by asking smaller questions that are general in nature, than it is to hit a grand slam home run with one big question that can be confusing to hear and difficult to answer. It is much easier for the other person to digest, and it allows them to share in any direction and helps you to understand how they think. Notice the difference between these two approaches:
- So, tell me how you’re progressing in regard to the timeline for the Zenith project, any problems? Are we going to deliver on time? What can I do to help?
- So, what’s happening with the Zenith Project? (Wait for the response)
- Anything I need to know? (Wait for the response)
- How do you feel about the delivery date? (Wait for the response)
- Need anything?
To be continued …
Tomorrow – More Powerful Than A Locomotive – Part 4
(This is an excerpt from Joe’s Latest Book Extraordinary Results, Mastering the Art of Leading, Coaching, & Influencing Others)