by Karen Smith, MBA, PMP
In part 1 of this series we explored how the power of questions – your questions – can either make or break your career. In this article, we’ll examine why questions are not asked, and how to create a culture of curiosity that will add value to your organization.
Why It’s Easier to Avoid Asking Questions
Constantly questioning “why do we do it this way” helps keep our minds fresh and instills a healthy culture for new ways of doing business. Why is this important? Have you created something of value after researching online and gotten the same feeling as if you were the original innovator? Do you ever wonder what the long term effects are of simply being a “consumer of a decision” versus being a “creator”? In the long run, your potential will be severely stunted until you make a cognizant and actionable change. (Hint: Choose to be a creator. You’ll thank me later for making that decision.)
At this point, it’s worth a moment to discuss two terms. The terms Replication Creators (RC) and Skilled Creators (SC) are important concepts to understand from a cognitive perspective. RCs are those who learn from others by reading the Internet or a book, and then creating something from the inspiration that comes. SCs on the other hand are using the space between their ears like a muscle and producing something new with it without the help of someone else. It doesn’t necessarily need to be groundbreaking, but the key difference is that you used your brain and came up with a solution. In other words, you are flexing your brain “muscle.”
Questions help make you – and your organization – smarter. No longer is “we’ve always done it this way” acceptable. That’s the lazy way. The brain needs a workout for best results. The leader of the past knew how to “tell”; the leader of the future will be the person who knows how to ask. Sincere asking demonstrates a willingness to learn, a desire to serve, and a humility that can be an inspiration at every level within an organization.
When you adopt a questioning culture, you are willing to admit that you don’t know everything. How refreshing is that, not only from your perspective, but from others’ perspectives? In this day and age where nearly everyone has an “opinion” (note – this is different than sharing well-researched facts) and can share that opinion with untold numbers of people with the click of a mouse, how welcoming is it that someone has the humility to understand that they don’t have all the answers, but is willing to listen and contribute based on what he/she heard?
The key here is to focus on asking empowering questions and avoiding disempowering questions. Emphasize the process of asking questions and searching for answers rather than finding the right or easy answer. Finally, accept and reward risk-taking.
Genuine and positive inquiries and collaborative action go hand-in-hand. It’s difficult to collaborate with others without asking and answering questions. Questions increase communications and listening, as well as prevent us from misjudging each other’s motivation. People feel included in the process and typically buy into the final decision much easier than if had they only been told what the final decision was. People want to feel valued. This is a great way to win their heads and hearts. Astonishingly, questions move people from dependence to independence. Let me repeat that: Questions move people from dependence to independence.
As group members engage in asking questions of one another, they gradually gain a group consensus on answers and strategies, since they now more clearly see each other’s perspective. They also gain greater clarity of their own. The questioning process causes us to become more interested in another person’s problems; and when we listen to someone respond to our questions, we appreciate their efforts and their attention.
Questions also generate alignment with a shared focus and make it more likely that the right problem will be solved. Too often, individuals and organizations run into trouble because they solve the wrong problem. It’s the combination of questions you ask and the questions you fail to ask that will get you in trouble – or, perhaps, shape your destiny.
Self-reflection, self-awareness and action are necessary when asking great questions. Astute and clear understanding of personal motives is one of the most critical of all leadership skills. It encourages an open dialogue. Over time and with practice, asking questions will become natural for the organization.
People who consciously self-reflect are much more attuned to their inner feelings than those who don’t, and are likelier to recognize how these feelings affect them. This inner knowledge helps us become aware of our limitations and strengths. Questioning leaders are more comfortable with addressing conflict, acknowledging the feelings and views of all sides, and then redirecting the energy toward a shared idea, moving the team toward a collaborative style of conflict management which is helpful toward achieving Number Two (Empathy) and Number Three (Rapport) on the Behavioral Stairway Model.
By now, you might start to see how this process works. By showing genuine curiosity and attempting to understand the other side’s point and feelings, you are able to show your “quiet leadership” side. Rather than telling people what to do, the leader must have the courage to ask them what needs to be done and then make a serious attempt to remove any obstacles that are in the way. No longer do you need to state or dictate your intent. Rather the group collectively comes up with – more often than not – a better idea; all by making them think through the issue and solve it, and thus gaining their buy-in along the way. You’ll probably discover that there is no such thing as the correct answer; it is all a matter of perspective. And by getting above the fray, a leader can comprehend the big picture by asking what’s really going on in the organization rather than going for the quick fix.
In our third and final installment in this series, we will examine both the problems of asking questions and how to resolve those problems. We will revisit all the tips and tricks we have learned for asking effective questions in order to propel yourself, your team and your organization to greater success.
What has your experience of asking questions been? What parts of your experience have been good, and where do you see room for improvement?
Change That: Is Your Question an
Invitation, a Request or a Weapon? Part 2