Asking vs Telling

Power-of-QuestionsAfter a number of conversations with both clients and then my own mentor, I just had to write about this – the power of asking questions.  If you want to be a leader of a business, a community or a team, then it’s important to be able to communicate effectively and sometimes that means not doing all the talking!

The Problem: Having difficult conversations with people on your team (and even friends and family) when they are not doing things the way you expect or need them to.  How do you sway them to your way of thinking without bringing up the natural defenses that we all have when given advice or negative feedback?

I remember a previous boyfriend of mine, many years ago, having a problem with a room-mate.  She often left a mess in the kitchen, despite my boyfriend frequently asking, and even demanding her, to change her behavior.  It was obvious they had different beliefs and values on housekeeping.

At the time, I suggested instead of telling her what to do, to actually ASK her questions.  Find out what she is thinking, and get her to do the talking. Get her to say the words with regard to what needs to change.

A former mentor of mine drummed into students, which I later took on as well, “When I say something it’s one thing, when YOU say it it’s EVERYTHING.”  By speaking, you own the words (which is why in personal development seminars you will often get to repeat stuff).

The value of questions is that you get to understand the person you are giving advice to.  “Seek to Understand‘ is Habit 5 of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.  By asking questions you avoid making assumptions about the motive or reason for someone else’s behaviour.

As my current mentor told me – find out if their actions/behaviors comes from ignorance (not knowing) or ego (knowing and defying).

Be really curious.  By asking questions you get the other person to not only give you answers, but you can keep up the question process and get them to come up with the solution.  Aren’t you more likely to do what you come up with, then a suggestion from someone else?

I must admit, suggesting to my clients/mentees that they use questions to resolve the current challenges with their team members was a lot easier than me thinking to do the same when faced with my own challenge.  It took a 2nd person (my mentor) to enlighten me and to see that I had switched to ‘telling’ mode when I went through a role-play with her.  Yes, guilty as charged.

Oh, awareness is a beautiful thing.  You need to be aware of your own foibles if you are to change them, so now I have a new visual prop to remind to ask questions.

No-one thinks the same as you.  We all have different experiences, knowledge and priorities.  What you think is important and urgent may differ to someone else on your team.  Be the leader and seek to understand them instead of judging them.  Next time you find someone on your team not performing as desired start with questions.  Keep asking questions and see how far you get by just asking questions alone.

By the way, my former boyfriend never did take my advice to ask his flatmate questions.  He just got rid of her.  I wonder if I had asked him questions myself if that would have changed things.

My turn to stop talking right here and ask YOU a question:  How do you deal with those challenging conversations?