Often team coaches are called into companies to help fix a lack of communication problem. This is usually where team members are communicating past each other instead of with each other. In some companies, departments operate in silos and only communicate by email.
Companies must work out which aspect of their communication they are challenged with. Is it listening, hearing, understanding, giving constructive feedback, avoiding conflict, or sidestepping tough conversations? The answer is most likely all of the above, but is that likely? My diagnosis is that we have lost the art of questioning. And I don’t mean questioning to interrogate or establish who is to blame for something, but the art of questioning to find solutions.
Let’s bring back the art of questioning and change our teams. How about instilling a learner approach so that everyone gets used to questioning to get information that makes it easy to find unique solutions?
Getting unstuck in your thinking process
The purpose of asking questions is to get information about an issue or someone’s reasoning for their actions. To clarify, they would view without making assumptions and explore exactly where a person got stuck in their thinking process. We often hope to get all of this through asking questions but we don’t. The reason for that is that we ask either “dead-end” or “reactive” questions.
- Dead-end questions can be answered with a “Yes” or “No” answer and are unlikely to provide you with further information. They take discussions down a rabbit-hole.
- Reactive questions start with “Why” and naturally make the other person defensive. Their response can vary from aggressive, passive, close down, defend themselves or provide a list of excuses.
Neither of these questioning styles provide genuine solutions.
Let’s look at an example.
X has failed to deliver a report on time and as a result the company has lost a prospective client. Ouch! Y, who is the boss, is furious and disappointed with X. “Wait until I get hold of her!”, he thinks. Annoyed, he approaches X.
– “Why did you miss the deadline?”
– “Were you not clear of the date?”
- Because of your non-delivery.
– Do you know that we lost the client’s account?
– Why did you not deliver?
In the end, Y gets nowhere with the questions. He is in the same situation that he was before and has made no progress in his attempt to stop something from happening again. He doesn’t even know the reason why the deadline wasn’t met in the first place. He did, however, get a list of excuses!
What Y really wanted to know was where X got stuck so that he was unable to deliver. Perhaps the work was only being done by X and all other colleagues pulled out? Or maybe he wasn’t clear what to report on? It could be that he wasn’t competent to do the job in the first place! There are so many possibilities and it isn’t easy to work out which one is correct. We need to ask curious questions to discover this.
Curious questions begin with “What, How, When or Who”. They are questions that a person needs to elaborate on and cannot be answered with either Yes or No.
Let’s go back to our example. Asking questions like:
- What made you miss the deadline?
- When did you become aware that you wouldn’t make it?
- Who could you have told?
- What are the implications for you not making the deadline?
- How have you learnt from this?
- What will you do differently next time?
You can see that these questions create movement, momentum, action and way forward solutions. They remove speculation and assumptions.
Learning to be curious to find out the answers requires explorative questioning. The benefit is that questions resolve a huge portion of our miscommunication problems. Questioning is a learnt skill and everybody can learn it. If you not sure how, let us train you.