Sound Advice for “Leading With Questions”

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Excerpted from 78 Important Questions Every Leader Should Ask and Answer by Chris Clarke-Epstein with the permission of the publisher

Before you rush out and start asking questions, there are a few things to keep in mind. Asking questions takes time. Asking questions implies that you’re going to listen to the answers. Asking these kinds of questions will annoy some people. Understanding each of these issues will help you formulate your questioning strategy, so let’s take a look at each.

Asking questions takes time

Don’t kid yourself about this one. You can’t approach people with important questions without allowing for the time it takes to hear the answers. When faced with a good question, most people actually think for a while, formulate their answer, deliver it, and expect a response. Often the response is a follow-up question that starts the process all over again. This takes time. It is rude to ask a question if you don’t have the time to listen to and absorb the answer. It is inconsiderate to interrupt someone’s day and ask them a question without determining if they have the time to answer.

Many leaders don’t ask questions because of the time factors involved. When things settle clown, they say, then I’ll have the time to ask questions. If you are a leader who’s waiting for things to settle down, you’re going to be waiting a long time. You need to make the time to ask questions. It’s your job.

Asking questions implies that you’re going to listen to the answers

Remember the story about the man who wanted a note to his wife to prove that he’d passed my listening course? Remember my answer? Understanding the process of good listening doesn’t ensure actually applying those principles.

Have you ever had a conversation with a person who kept looking at their watch while you’re speaking? Most of us use the time while another person is speaking to develop our responses to their words (or what we think they’ll say since we’re not really listening anyway). That’s not listening. Asking a question and listening to the answer involves staying engaged in the answer from beginning to end. No matter how long it takes the answerer to get to the end.

Asking questions and then practicing poor listening skills is a very bad idea. If you’re not willing to sharpen your listening skills, you’d be better off not asking questions at all.

Asking these questions will annoy some people

Not everyone will he thrilled with your newfound enthusiasm for asking questions that go beyond the generally expected business questions. Expect some rolling of the eyes, double takes, and downright avoidance behavior. Just don’t let these behaviors stop you from asking. People are suspicious of leaders who start asking questions because they’re confused by new behavior, because they fear the reprisal for an honestly answered tough question, or because they’re just plain cynical.

Don’t let reluctance on the part of others influence your commitment to asking these questions. Acknowledge their existence, explain your intentions again, and keep asking.

Don’t run out and bombard people with questions. Pick the right question for the right person at the right time. Learning how to ask questions is about strategic thinking. The time you spend thinking strategically about the questions you ask will be time well-spent and the answers you get will be of greater value.

One more word of advice

If you’re having trouble deciding what question to start with in order to go deeper with this behavior, why not try this one:

What would you think of a leader who is known for the quality questions they ask?

The answers just might provide the motivation you need to keep asking.

Chris Clark-Epstein 2Chris Clarke-Epstein, Certified Speaking Professional is a change expert who has spent the last 28 years challenging diverse groups including senior leadership teams, middle management supervisors, and health care professionals to apply new knowledge.  Author of and contributor to more than 15 books, Chris teaches and writes in critical areas such as understanding the dynamics of change, delivering effective feedback, dealing with conflict, and building high performance teams.  You can connect with Chris @ Change101.com

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