Even If You Know the Answer
Good questions are powerful. Not just because of the information they surface, but even more because of how they impact the asker, the answerer, and everyone else in the room. In short, our brains engage differently when we hear a question than when we’re told something.
But I’m a Problem Solver…
Your problem-solving ability may be what got you a leadership opportunity to begin with. And now we’re suggesting it should take a backseat to asking others for solutions – even when you already have a solution in mind. Our superhero ego gets in the way and wants the credit. Maybe we’re afraid a question will make us look stupid. Or worse, we really don’t care about the other person, their growth, and what they think. But that’s not leadership. Our goal as a leader is to help others reach their full potential and contribute to a higher level of joint success.
The Power of a Good Question
Use questions, rather than statements, to…
- …Capture our attention – A question triggers our brain’s Reticular Activating System and forces us to stop multitasking and focus.
- …Spur learning – In addition to facts, we uncover perspectives, opinions, and assumptions, all of which reveal information that we might miss from our own angle.
- …Build relationships – Others feel valued when we seek their input. And their responses often reveal emotions that we can tap into to help them grow.
A Learnable Skill
Of course, it’s possible to use questions poorly. We can come across as an interrogator, wear people out with our incessant questioning, or be manipulative. Our tone and how we frame our questions matter. But asking good questions is easily learnable with a little practice and feedback.
- It starts with humility – OK, for some this foundation may not be so easy to learn. But every aspect of your success as a leader depends on it. Check the ego at the door and admit that everyone knows something that you don’t.
- Develop genuine curiosity – Curiosity’s enemy is certainty. Even if you think you know 99%, be hungry to discover the other 1%. Be willing to question your own certainty and ask anyway. Sometimes you’ll be surprised by what you didn’t know. Other times you’ll find you were right but asking anyway gained the additional benefits a good question brings.
- Really listen – Listening shows respect. Pay attention to the underlying emotions and what’s not being said. Words are just part of the communication.
- Avoid leading questions – Go deeper in exploring their ideas rather than redirecting them to yours.
- Spur thinking with open-ended questions – Save yes/no questions for when you need a definitive commitment. The rest of the time, lean on who, what, where, when, and how Be careful with why as it can make people defensive.
- Be comfortable with SILENCE – Don’t fill every pause, let the silence hang to surface deeper thinking.
Asking questions isn’t always about learning what you don’t know. Ask anyway to engage brains and build relationships. Remember that an answer discovered is more powerful than an answer given!
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