Ask More,Tell Less

December 9th, 2021 | Coaching Leadership
Ask More,Tell Less

Excerpted with permission from Chapter two of “Let’s Talk” by Therese Huston

Juan was sitting in the cavernous lobby of an expensive hotel. It was after 10 p.m., and he was having a relaxed chat with the hotel’s general manager, a colleague of his. A woman flew through the lobby and went straight to the front desk clerk. Juan couldn’t hear the conversation, but he could see that after a quick exchange of cards, the guest got her room key, and off she went, checking her cell phone and juggling her bags.

Juan watched from his comfy chair with curiosity. He happened to be an HR manager for the hotel’s corporate office, and he went around the country training employees on how to make an emotional connection with each guest. He wouldn’t exactly call what he’d just witnessed a connection, but it was late. He shrugged it off and turned back to his colleague.

But the hotel’s general manager wouldn’t let it go. “I have an opportunity,” he said, standing up. “Watch this.” The general manager approached the clerk behind the front desk. Juan leaned in and listened as the general manager offered feedback, starting with praise—she had done a great job checking in this person quickly—but in the future, she should make an emotional connection. “Make eye contact,” he encouraged, “and ask where she’s coming from and how her journey has been. Those are ways you can begin to foster customer loyalty. I know you can do it.” The general manager gave a quick nod to Juan—no doubt proud of his feedback—then went on his way.

Now it was Juan’s turn to check in. He recognized the employee from the last training session he’d led and wanted to hear her side of the story. “How are you?” he asked. “I’m good,” she said, folding her hands. Juan said, “I just saw what happened, and I imagine something is up. Can you tell me more about that?” She simply shook her head. “All good here,” she insisted. “Listen,” he said, his voice patient and soft. “Talk to me. What happened?” Suddenly her composure vanished. “I just feel bad, because I feel like I’ve done the right thing and apparently I didn’t. The guest came in and said, ‘I’m really annoyed because my flight was grossly delayed. I have a call with Asia that took a month to set up and I’m already a few minutes late for it. I need my key right away.’ So the last thing on my mind was that she would want a conversation.” Juan said, “You’re right. You did the right thing. Great judgment call. So how do you make an emotional connection now?” The clerk’s shoulders sagged. “I missed my opportunity, it’s lost.” And Juan said, “No, it isn’t. You have an opportunity still. She’s here until at least tomorrow morning. What are your options?” They brainstormed for a few moments; then the front desk attendant perked up, saying, “You know what? I could write a note saying, ‘I hope you made it to your room in time for your call. My name is Madeline and I’m here until seven tomorrow morning. If you need anything, call me.’” She slid the note under her door, and three days later, that guest wrote a stellar Yelp review, calling out Madeline by name.

We all dream of Juan-and-Madeline moments, but if we’re honest, we have far too many general manager moments. When you spot a problem and see a solution, it’s natural to share all of your pent-up advice. It seems as though telling is what you’re supposed to do when you’ve got something to say. And yet Juan’s approach was the one that worked. Juan asked questions. He could see that his perspective was limited, but even after Madeline had filled him in, he still refrained from telling her what to do. He reminded her of the larger goal and kept asking questions until she’d found her own solution.

The best managers know that employees need a sense of ownership over the problem and the solution. But the best managers don’t sit back and hope ownership emerges. They foster ownership by asking questions.

We usually think that coaching is about having all the answers, but people who coach for a living will tell you, a good question beats a good answer most of the time. This chapter will show you what’s worth asking.

Note from Bob:  You can purchase “Let’s Talk” today by clicking HERE

Therese Huston


Therese Huston, Ph.D., is a cognitive scientist at Seattle University and author of Let’s Talk:  Make Effective Feedback Your Superpower.  You can find Therese and learn more about her speaking and consulting at



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