“WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING TO ME?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “How could that good for nothing jerk dare to do this!?” “Does she think I’m stupid and won’t notice she stole my presentation?” If any of these questions resonate with you, then you’re not alone. We sometimes meet daily setbacks, frustrations, obstacles, difficult people, and tend to ask ourselves these sorts of questions in response.
Questions are the single most powerful tool in everyone’s communications toolbox. [quote float=”right”]Questions are the single most powerful tool in everyone’s communications toolbox.[/quote] When you think of questions you probably think about interviews, networking events, meetings, or a presentation’s Q&A, but interestingly, in order to either agree with or disagree with my last statement you asked yourself a question and answered it. Interestingly the entire act of perception is really just us asking ourselves questions and then answering them:
– “Is he a threat?”
– “Do I like my work?”
– “Do I want another slice of cake?”.
We use questions so frequently we don’t even realise we are using them. So what if we started to ask ourselves, and others, better questions?
Better leaders ask better, more empowering questions. Mobile phones had been around a long time before the iPhone, but did Steve Jobs ask, “What if my phone idea fails against all this competition?” Instead, he asked an empowering question, “How can I make a phone that changes the entire concept of what a phone is?”.
Questions focus people’s minds, and they also help us understand what they are thinking. Many times we see managers, in meetings, droning on and on about their idea, or what they want the team to do. They wrap up the meeting assuming that everyone has understood what they are supposed to do and why. Maybe the manager even asked, “Do you all understand?” and received the obligatory, “Yes.”. Without some sort of telepathic superpower there is no way for the manager to know if the team truly understood until the project they were discussing fails or succeeds. [quote float=”left”]Without some sort of telepathic superpower there is no way for the manager to know if the team truly understood until the project they were discussing fails or succeeds. [/quote]The trick is to get the employees to say what they are thinking so that the manager can address concerns or help to align them with the projects goals. Ask positively stated questions such as, “What would make this better?”, “What are areas we need to strengthen?”, “What goals would you like to add to this project?”. These types of questions engage employees, get their buy-in, and help ensure they understand the project and support it.
Another technique I’ve seen used successfully in training courses is, instead of the trainer telling the trainees what they are going to learn and why they should listen, the trainer simply makes an observation and then asks a question.
“I see a dozen very experienced managers here today who have probably been communicating with their staff for years. I’m thinking to myself why would they want to be in this communications workshop?”
Interestingly those managers tell the trainer exactly why they need to be in the workshop, what they want from it, and some of them have even started to convince themselves they need to be there! Now the trainer doesn’t need to be telepathic to address their needs, and now knows exactly how to make his presentation more tailored and successful.
You can use questions with yourself or with your staff in times of crisis as well. You’ve probably, at one time in your life, had someone take your idea and represent it as his or her own. When you discover what has happened, it makes you angry and places you into a very negative, and unhelpful, state of mind. You start asking yourself questions like the ones at the beginning of this article, or perhaps asking yourself how you’ll get even with this thief. But, you are a professional and know that you must overcome these feelings and react professionally, so that you will shine. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”, “What do I respect or like about the person that did this?”, “What ways can I turn this around?”. These questions will start you thinking in a more useful frame of mind instead of keeping you stewing in your own anger. Remember that questions focus us, and they shape our interpretations of an event, thereby affecting our emotions.
Keep in mind that questions should be phrased positively and presuppositions used appropriately. A good example of a presupposition used poorly is if you ask your team, “Why do we always fail to meet our sales targets”? If you ask this question, then prepare to always fail to hit your targets. Your question is reinforcing the belief that they ALWAYS fail. Try asking a question like, “What can we change about our process to allow us to consistently meet our targets?”. The answers you receive will be much more useful using the second question than the first.
Now that you better understand the power of questions, try observing the types of questions you and your colleagues use in the workplace. Instead of asking a colleague, “don’t you think this project is really boring and useless?”, try asking them (or yourself) “Don’t you just love how much we are learning about X by doing this project?” Make it a habit to ‘clean up’ the questions you ask yourself both personally and professionally and watch how quickly your life changes for the better.