All Statements Can Become Questions, Can’t They?

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All Statements Can Become Questions, Can’t They?

Excerpted with the permission of the authors from Chapter 10 of So, What’s Your Point?

As illustrated in the sub-title above, you can convert almost anything you want to say into a question.  When you pose a question, some very interesting dynamics occur.  For purposes of comparison, let’s observe two conversations.

Suppose I visit Susan, the vice president of finance at the Widget Manufacturing Company, and during our discussion I say, “You know, Susan, you ought to have your financial analysts using spreadsheet software on their personal computers [PCs].”  Alternatively I might say, “Susan, have you ever thought about having your financial analysts use spreadsheet software on their PCs?”  Is there any difference in the way the two might affect you if you were Susan?  Does Susan think more favorably toward me when I make a statement and put myself in the position of being the expert, or when I ask a question, and put her in the expert position?

Let’s consider how Susan might respond.  When I state, “You know Susan, you ought to have your financial analysts using spreadsheet software on their PCs,” she might reply, “Absolutely not!  My friend Robert tried that at his company and it was a disaster!”  Am I in trouble?  You bet!  I committed myself with a statement.  I’ve set up a win-lose situation.

Now consider how the conversation might proceed if instead I question, “Susan, have you ever thought about having your financial analysts use spreadsheet software on their PCs?”  Again, she replies, “Absolutely not!  My friend Robert tried that at his company and it was a disaster!”  Am I in trouble now?  No, because I never said she should use PCs and spreadsheets.  I just asked if she had ever thought about doing so.  Now, what recourse do I have?  I can stay in the conversation by asking, “Really, what happened?”  Will Susan answer that question?  Most likely, because she won’t feel like I’m challenging her or trying to put her on the spot.  It’s still a win-win situation.

In fact, the conversation might go something like this:

“Well,” Susan explains, “Robert said that the software worked fine, but the computers they were using just weren’t reliable.  They kept breaking down.”

“What kind of PCs were they using?”

“TAC ZEROs.”

Oh?  I’ve never heard of them.

Yeah, well I think TAC stands for Take A Chance, but they’re available at a really low price!

“If they had used a computer that was reliable, do you think the outcome would have been different?”

“Probably so.”

“If we could find some equipment that was reliable, would you like to explore the possibility of using spreadsheet software on PCs in your department?”

“Well, I would have to be convinced that the equipment was reliable. “

“What would it take to convince you?”

“Well, I would have to visit an organization where such an implementation was successful and see for myself.”

“If we could locate such a site, would you schedule a visit?”

“Certainly.”

Notice that all I did was ask questions.  The key is to ask questions in a way that recognizes and acknowledges the other person’s intelligence and shows that you are interested in what the other person has to say.  If the person perceives the situation as a win-win, the questions usually get answered.

Dr. James Wetherbe & Dr. Bond Wetherbe

James Wetherbe is internationally known as a dynamic and entertaining speaker who is especially appreciated for his ability to explain complex topics in straight-forward, practical terms that can be understood and applied by business leaders. Author of over 30 books, Jim is ranked among the top dozen consultants on the management of information technology and among the 20 most influential researchers in his field.
Bond Wetherbe is a business outcomes oriented educator, consultant, entrepreneur, leader and author with a proven record of results and accomplishments. Experience includes faculty positions at Texas Tech University, The University of Houston, and Loyola University New Orleans, high-tech management positions in both industry and government, principal positions with consulting firms, and co-founder of Micro Solutions, Mead Publishing, and The Wetherbe Group.

You can purchase So, What’s Your Point? at:  www.meadpublications.com

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Pam Smith   |   04 March 2013   |   Reply

This post caused me to reflect on “recovery from a closed question”. I have the occasional “whoops” when an open question would have been better than the closed question I just asked. There are limited responses fto a closed question…it’s either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. This was a good reminder that a follow up: “Tell me more about that” can save the day! :o)

leadingwithquestions   |   04 March 2013   |   Reply

Pam you are good! Aren’t you? 🙂