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

While the question is the single most powerful communication tool we have, we rarely use it. We are too busy making statements to prove that we are experts rather than asking questions.

Have you ever watched really effective executives? Instead of saying, “George, I need to talk to you in my office right away!” they phrase the request, “George, there are some things we need to discuss. When you have a chance would you drop by my office?”

If you’re George, you can translate “when you have a chance would you drop by my office?” to mean, ‘Unless you have chains around your ankles, I want to see your elbows pumping down the hallway now!’ Isn’t it nicer, however, to be asked to “drop by”?

The phrasing can make all the difference, can’t it? For example, compare “Hand that to me!” with “Would you hand that to me?”

Do you see the difference? By switching to a question, the speaker may use a different tone of voice, the listener perceives a different tone, and, most probably, the response or reaction is positive rather than negative or defensive.

Let’s consider an issue with which managers are often faced —discussing job performance with subordinates. The following is an example of the communication between me, the manager, and Jane, the employee, who I have summoned to my office. “Come in, Jane. Have a seat. I want to speak with you for a few moments, because we are very concerned about your performance. I understand that you have done poorly on several past assignments and that you have not been keeping regular hours. You have been reporting to work late as well as sometimes taking up to three hours for your lunch break. Your poor performance coupled with irregular work hours has really become a serious problem.”

Does this sound like a diplomatic enough start? Upon initial consideration, it may seem okay. But what if Jane responds, “I’m really sorry I have been gone so much. My husband is terminally ill with cancer and that’s why I’ve taken so much time off. I want to be with him as much as I can.” If you’re the manager, how would you feel? Do you comprehend the jeopardy you put yourself in when you make statements rather than ask questions?

In the previous example, did I perceive that I was dealing with a win-win or win-lose situation. Did my approach allow for it to be anything but win-lose or even lose-lose? Wouldn’t it have been better to start the conversation with “How are things going?” “How are things at work?” “How are things at home?” “How do you feel about your performance on your last few assignments?” This would allow me to find out valuable information before committing myself.

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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