Years ago, when some project or client interaction had not gone as well as expected, the head of our division where I worked at the time would initiate a fact-finding conversation with us by asking, “So, what happened?”
Then he would sit back and listen carefully, nodding his head to show he understood, and asking a few more questions, until it seemed we had each played out our full opinion. Only then would he speak about what he wanted done next.
It’s an approach that I came to admire and to adopt.
Asking questions is a great way to open the conversation. It ensures that we understand the situation without making false assumptions. It also helps us show our support for the person we’re talking to and to carefully weigh facts before making a decision. Asking questions also helps us to remain focused on the situation when the finger of blame swings around and points at us.
Sometimes asking ‘what happened?’ elicits an ‘I don’t know,’ in which case I have to prod a little to start the words flowing. But I’ve never had the other person not begin to talk after the second invitation. The words are already there, the thoughts are already programmed inside the other person. All that is needed is for us to issue an invitation to speak.
When I ask questions, I learn. No matter what next step I need to take, the other person knows that I have listened first, without rushing to judgment, assigning blame, or imposing a consequence without giving fair consideration.
Ever face one of these difficult situations at work? A subordinate delivers a less-than-expected performance on an important project; two on your team go three rounds on a conference call, leaving everyone uncomfortable; your own boss fails to back you up in an important meeting, after earlier indicating you had her full support?
What did you do? How well did it work? Next time, try asking questions and listening closely to the answers.
Life Is Honest, Open and True: Asking questions is a great way to gauge what the other person needs from you right now, and giving others what they need is part of being an effective leader. Whenever a difficult situation arises, think in terms of asking questions as the path to honest, open and true conversation.