As leaders, the greatest tools at our disposal are questions. It sounds too basic, right? In our world of boundless progress and technology, how can it be that the lowly Question retains so much power? But in our experience, questions are your secret weapons, your secret sauce. Deployed correctly, questions will start to transform your conversations, your relationships, and ultimately your teams.
As students, we’re raised to believe in the value of having the right answers. Our success is measured by our ability to fill in blanks. Some of us asked fewer questions with each passing year at school, studying harder and harder in an attempt to master our subjects. To get good grades. That guileless embrace of “not knowing” that we possessed as children gave way to a dogged determination to “know”, often times to “know better”.
We forget that the magic of learning resides in that delicious space of NOT knowing — that we grow the most when we embrace the unknown. As adults, we forget that questions, not answers, are the key to our success.
Because questions offer up the potential to create: create new understanding, new directions, new ways of behaving. Yes, questions invite “new” into our lives — and as humans we actually need “new” in our lives, to be reminded — sometimes reassured — that we are evolving, growing. In situations that feel static, people feel stuck. And stuck humans are rarely happy humans.
In simple terms, questions introduce a dynamic element to our relationships. They embed possibility in our every conversation.
So if you want to improve team engagement, free up new creative space in our organizational culture, or discover a new level of leadership potential, become intentional about your questions. Discipline! Yes, we’re back to discipline again: the discipline to watch yourself in conversation, becoming aware how many and what types of questions you ask. Become a question counter — even just for a day — to fire up your self awareness as a starting point for honing your questioning power.
Try including these three types of questions into your mix:
Questions that Clarify
These are the easy ones, right?, the ones that help to avoid confusion and crossed wires simply by creating a shared understanding of a process or a task. Clarifying questions are critical because they save time and streamline processes, freeing you up for the juicy creative or technical work that more likely speaks to your passion at work. Clarifying questions are critical because they reduce micro-conflicts, annoyances and aggressions that arise from misunderstandings — the very things that eat away at workplace morale and block genuine human connection and the pursuit of shared purpose.
Questions that Challenge
This is where it starts to get tough. Questions that start with why, what if, how about — these are the questions that often rattle through our busy brains in meetings while we remain silent, quickly judging whether or when to ask them. There’s risk involved with these questions– the risk of rejection of an idea or opinion. And that’s scares us. Our ego is heavily invested in these questions, and we’re all fiercely protective of our egos, particularly at work. But challenging is an essential component of any team engagement, it leverages our collective strength to build something better than if we did it alone. So go ahead and challenge, but do so mindfully. Before you challenge, check your intentions and your facts: is your challenge an effort to grow or knock down? Do the facts back up your challenge? Have you thought through the consequences of your challenge? Challenge with grace, with integrity and people will likely receive. Challenge with anger and ego, and the challenge will likely get swatted away.
Questions that Care
You might think these don’t have a place in the workplace. Or that they’re reserved only for your friends in the office — the ones you go out to lunch with. But how about introducing questions that care into your conversations with your boss, your assistant or that colleague in finance who processes your paycheck? These questions often start with how: How’s your son settling into college? How’s your new baby? How’s your marathon training going? These “how” questions recognize your colleagues’ humanity– they open up your engagement to life outside of the office. That “wholeness” is essential for most people to feel contented and accepted at work Emotions at work often only appear when they bubble up and over — when they’ve reached a point that they need to be “managed”. How about introducing some emotion into your relationship that represents care for the person — the human — whose life is so much richer than what you might experience? Get to know your colleagues’ stories — and care about them — then watch how that opens up space to perform better and more passionately with and for each other.
So if you want to get good grades as a leaders, change agents or skillful team players then ask questions. Every day. Every conversation. And soon enough having all the right answers won’t matter as much.
Written by Jillian Reilly