Do you harness the power of questions?

There is a skill that is essential in getting to know someone, understanding them, and, importantly, leading them.

What is that skill?

It’s asking questions. Questions that start with curiosity.

It’s funny because we are born with this skill. As children, we are curious about everything and anything and we ask earnest questions, without agendas and ulterior motives. Pure blissful curiosity.

But at some point, we train ourselves out of this curiosity and earnestness.

  • We start assuming that we know better
  • We have less time for curiosity and we jump to problem solving
  • We believe that our perspective is the most reasonable one.

We find shortcuts to life and leadership. Shortcuts that shortchange us from being really impactful humans and leaders.

If you have any exposure to teenagers you, like me, will see this most days (sigh). I consciously try to keep our conversations open and stay curious.

And this can only happen if we are asking better questions and listening, really listening, to the answers. Some of my go-to tools are:

  • Wide open questions – do you lead the witness towards the answer you anticipate, or do you meet them with open-ended questions that leave room for unexpected insights?
  • Reflecting back – two people can hear the same words and get completely different meanings from them. Do you reflect back to the other person what you understood, seeking confirmation and common ground?
  • Clarifying questions – powerful questions can unleash powerful answers, answers you may not have been prepared for. Do you drill down and seek clarification, progressing that understanding?

So yes, listening is SO important for getting to know your team members and building trust within your team, but you also need to be asking questions that enable people to share with you.

When you practice these simple approaches, they really force you to listen, so you are strengthening your listening – and leadership – muscles. Get curious and try using one or more of them next time you are talking with someone in your team. And persevere.

If you haven’t been having these sorts of conversations with your team, it may take them a little while to feel comfortable delving into details and to trust that you are genuinely curious about and interested in their answers, so don’t get discouraged. Do you feel like you already do this well? That’s great! I would love to hear about how your team responds. If not, where do you feel you get stuck?

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