Brad, a young leader running a successful family-owned manufacturing company, had breakfast with me recently. It’s been two years since his executive coaching. His experience proved insightful and encouraging…
“Brad, how has your leadership been shaped for this?” I asked.
He paused thoughtfully, then replied, “The #1 skill I continue to work on is knowing when to ask the open-ended question … to remember to slow down and listen.”
Not since you were born
Everyday, people resist being told what to do. Have you noticed? The human condition includes a bent towards doing it “my way.”
If you don’t believe me, follow a mother and her toddler for 15 minutes and jot down (without creeping them out!) the toddler’s demands. Listen to a dad as his teenager flaps his wings … “Don’t tell me what to do.”
What happens when you feel like you’re being told what to do? When was the last time you liked it?
All questions are not created equal
People think they can communicate effectively by asking any question. Leading questions suggest the answer only to confirm a pre-determined belief. Closed-ended questions limit the response to “yes or no.” Such questions shut down dialog and with that, close down potential and creative people.
A powerful leadership skill
What if you want to have more influence with others?
Ask more, tell less; teach when you can or must.
Leadership is about influence. If you desire to expand your influence, cultivate your ability to consistently use open-ended questions. Transform your telling habit into asking. Edit your questions using who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Why is this such a powerful leadership skill?
Imagine a situation in your workplace. You’re knowledgeable and have demonstrated success and experience. A new project or process is in the works. A solution is needed. What happens when your “boss” drops in and tells you what to do…tells you how to do your job? How do you feel?
Now, same story, but this time she calls you by name and asks,
- How would you suggest we do this?
- What do you think of…?
- When can we anticipate rolling this out?
- Who else needs to be involved?
- Where might this not work? Why?
When open-ended questions are employed (instead of telling) most people feel
- Respected – “Wow, my opinion is valued…”
- Appreciated – “Hmm, someone cared enough to ask…”
- Empowered – “I have a voice, my view point matters…”
- Trusted – “You have the best interests of others in mind.”
What happens when people feel respected, appreciated, and empowered? How about engaged and productive?
Breaking the habit
While Brad is committed to framing open-ended questions, he admitted he has to work at asking more, telling less, and teaching when the opportunity is right.
The skill is easy to understand. Changing the behavior of “telling” is another thing. It takes practice to value others enough to present them with the power of open-ended questions.
Start using open-ended questions, got it?
Hmm, see what I mean?
Here’s to your next level…