It’s the prickliest rodent. Underneath soft hair, it’s needle-like quills offer sharp reminders: “You don’t want to mess with me.” When threatened, the quill pig snaps its quills to attention like soldiers in the Army, ready to inflict pain. Few people enjoy being around porcupines.
Mike needed to improve his ability to communicate — especially with the owner of the company. Mike’s fear of confrontation made it difficult to be an effective communicator. Our conversation went something like this…
“Mike, how do you like being told what to do? When you are given an assignment and know what to do and how to proceed, how does being told what to do affect you?”
“I don’t like it,” he replied.
“Why is that?”
“I like to be left alone to do my job; trust me and let me do it.”
I pressed on, “How does it make you feel when someone tells you what to do?”
After some hesitation he found his words, “I don’t like it and find myself resisting…I don’t feel trusted or respected.”
Telling Pushes People Away
When did you start enjoying being told what to do?
Descriptions of the quill pig offer insight into how ineffective telling is…
- A prickly rodent: How do you like being told how to do your job or what you did wrong? It can be an uncomfortable, irritating exchange … prickly
- Quills are sharp reminders: What is it the “teller” wants others to remember?
- Quills are used when threatened: What fear drives the need to tell?
- Quills are persuasive deterrents: How does telling limit dialog, collaboration or innovation?
- Quills detach easily: Why is it “easier” to tell others what to do?
- Quills are difficult to remove: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words cannot harm me.” Really?
Telling minimizes others, shows disrespect, disengages, and shuts down communication. Effective leaders avoid it.
Imagine a ball carrier in football. He runs toward defenders on his way to the end zone. As they attempt to get close, he “stiff arms” each would-be tackler taking them out of the action. Telling can be a verbal stiff arm. It’ll get you to the end zone, but it turns teammates into opponents.
The Solution: Ask More . . .
“Mike, when someone you respect asks for your input, your opinion, your thoughts on a topic, how do you feel?”
“Oh, it’s great. I feel honored, respected; appreciated, valued, trusted…it’s totally different.”
Open-ended questions are a totally different experience. They invite participation.
- Asking encourages an exchange of ideas through dialogue and discussion
- Asking sends a message of value, respect, and honor
- Asking demonstrates trust and appreciation
- Asking flows from a place of freedom and creates space
- Asking releases control
Telling “pushes people away,” asking “invites them to stay.”
Teach When You Can
Of course, there is a time to impart knowledge to someone, to provide direction, to advocate a certain way or to set expectations. When these moments arise, go for it. Be a great teacher.
Your mantra is simple: Ask More, Tell Less, Teach When You Can
Mike discovered that asking open-ended questions is not confrontational; in fact, it actually demonstrates honor, respect, and appreciation — even for the boss.
What’s your default communication style?
As a leader, what if you Ask MORE, tell less, teach when you can?
*This post is adapted from Chapter 1: “The Quill Pig” from my book, The People Project. To order your copy use this link to Amazon.