Do you have a curious mindset? What’s your ratio of asking versus telling?
We’ve seen outstanding results when the leaders we coach have shifted to a curious mindset and started asking instead of telling. But not all questions are created equal. Be careful to avoid questions that can seem accusatory and generate a negative threat response (such as, “what were you thinking?”). These types of questions are counterproductive, because they immediately put the person on the defensive and do not allow for any clarification of misunderstanding or opportunity for growth. Instead, ask productive questions by:
- Asking open-ended questions to inspire action. That means the answer is more than yes, no or one word. You are not conducting an interrogation, or even an interview! Change comes from asking questions that cause the person to think. When you pose a question, the mind cannot help itself, it needs an answer! “What if”, “why”, and “why not” questions can open possibilities and challenge the status quo. Innovative solutions are sparked by avoiding binary thinking (seeing things in terms of right/wrong, either/or, etc.) and instead considering what could be.
- Asking neutral questions by eliminating bias. The best questions don’t serve a hidden agenda. Your goal is to provoke an honest, thoughtful opinion, not a reply that parrots what the person thinks you want to hear. Consider the quality of response you might receive from these versions of the same question:
“Isn’t this new policy helpful?”
“Is this new policy helpful?”
“What do you think of the new policy?”
Which option would get the best feedback?
- Asking questions from a place of curiosity (not telling disguised as asking.) When you believe you have a solution and you are trying to make the case to move forward, you may overlook input that enhances the solution or even changes it. Curiosity is a mindset that can be frustrating when you value speed but is essential when creativity and innovation are top priorities. Curiosity also inhibits judgement, which allows people to share freely without fear of being dismissed as ignorant or incompetent as you are exploring answers together. Learn to pay attention to other perspectives, regardless of whether you agree with them, and seek to understand the ideas and emotions that fuel them.
Like any other skill, asking questions effectively requires thoughtful effort and regular practice before it becomes a natural habit. The benefits to your relationships, your team and your organization are well worth the investment.
The more you are curious, eliminate bias and ask powerful questions, the more wonderful the world around you will become!