As an executive coach and business advisor I work with executives and leaders in a variety of industries. One of the biggest frustrations leaders have is the inability to have a desired effect on individuals or an outcome.
When unpacking these situations, it’s often emotions that cloud thoughts. This prevents them from asking clarifying questions that could change the trajectory of the discussion.
We’re humans: we feel. Sometimes our emotions influence our actions in unintended ways. Emotions can run high when you don’t feel heard or respected, you feel like your credibility is on the line, or you feel backed into a corner. When this happens, judgment is skewed and we risk reacting in ways that further escalate tension. It’s in these moments that we need to take a step back and reflect. We need to understand what’s behind these tough emotions and ask ourselves: what can I ask to better understand?
When any leader is operating on the edge of uncertainty or the edge of the unknown, questions really are the answer.– Hal Gregersen
In his book “Questions are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life,” Hal Gregersen interviewed 200 creative and successful business leaders. All of the leaders were exceptional at landing on their feet and asking the questions that other people weren’t. He notes, “the biggest questions we ask often demand the biggest level of uncertainty, and fear, and anxiety that we can imagine.”
So, what can we do when our emotions run high? One simple step is to begin by asking “What are the positive intentions behind the individual’s words or actions?” Start the conversation by recognizing those good intentions. Then ask questions that will further clarify the reason behind their actions. Questions such as “could you help me understand by walking me through your thought process?” can go along way in helping us understand the why behind actions that may seem incomprehensible.
Listening is just as important as asking questions. The key is to listen to the content and the emotions behind what is being said. When someone is walking you through their thought process, identify when they seem excited, frustrated, or uncertain. Explore those areas a little further. “It sounds like you had some questions at that time, what were you trying to evaluate or weigh?” Try periodically reframing what you heard to clarify your understanding. It helps you better understand the perspective of the person you’re talking with and lets them know that you’re truly listening and interested in learning. It may seem simple, but authentic listening involves putting aside judgment or intent, especially when emotions are running high. The goal is to be curious and seek enlightenment.
Questions are the precursor to creating completely new answers and solutions.
Peter Drucker, known as the father of management thinking, would jump-start strategic thinking by asking: “what changes have recently happened that don’t fit ‘what everyone knows’?”
Executives must be comfortable with tapping the intelligence around them. Engage and ask questions of your employees, advisors, investors, board members, and fellow executives. The ability to both listen and make connections while engaging with others is a skill that takes time, intention and practice. Ultimately, it leads to more meaningful and productive exchanges.
How do you ignite curiosity and build questioning skills?
Want to learn more about how to ask good questions or how to be a better leader? Contact us to start a conversation.