Thinking about Questions

I’ve been enamored of late with the topics and writings on the Harvard
Business Review site, especially the blogs. Tonight I visited the site
and was immediately taken in with a Judith Ross entry called “How to Ask Better Questions.”

Very few people consider it – they just
want an answer – but the way you ask questions leads to how your
relationship is defined. For instance, your management area has several
projects and some of them are working out better than others. Suppose a
subordinate that is working on one of the projects without a known
issue comes into your office. You might be inclined to ask something
like “what is wrong with the project?” and just assume that the reason
the person is in your office is to get some help. But that type of
wording puts the person coming into your office on the defensive. They
change into justify mode. But you really want sharing mode. Remember,
this is a project without issues (that you know of). Perhaps it is best
to learn from your subordinate about how they are getting around
certain issues that are plaguing their colleagues. This promotes
leadership and recognition.

Here are some additional excerpts I found interesting:

The most effective and empowering questions create value in one or more of the following ways:

  1. They create clarity: “Can you explain more about this situation?”
  2. They construct better working relations: Instead of “Did you make your sales goal?” ask, “How have sales been going?”
  3. They help people think analytically and critically: “What are the consequences of going this route?”
  4. They inspire people to reflect and see things in fresh, unpredictable ways: “Why did this work?”
  5. They encourage breakthrough thinking: “Can that be done in any other way?”
  6. They challenge assumptions: “What do you think you will lose if you start sharing responsibility for the implementation process?”
  7. They create ownership of solutions: “Based on your experience, what do you suggest we do here?”

Just as important, it is up to you as the leader to model the
question-asking approach so that your team, in turn, will employ it
with their own reports. For example, you can track how well the team is
working together by asking questions like:

  • We’ve been working together for three hours today; what did we do best as a team?
  • What enabled us to be successful in coming up with an innovative strategy?
  • How can we ask better questions?
  • How can we apply what we are learning to other parts of our work?
  • What leadership skills helped us succeed today?

Working Thoughts 05/12/09
Early 2008 Productivity and GDP


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