As Joseph S. Edwards said, “Great results begin with great questions.”
Do good managers do the work for their staff, or do they lead them to creatively think through dilemmas so that they develop the right skills to problem solve in the future?
I have written about managerial courage and learning agility as part of a winning formula. The third part of that formula is the ability to ask good questions to get great results.
There are many reasons why people don’t want to ask questions. These include…
- The fear of looking foolish
- The fear that the manager will think less of him or her
- An unwillingness to work through the tough stuff
- Laziness (sad, but true)
- Being particularly good at getting their manager to do their job
What do you normally do when a staff member or colleague comes to you and says, “I don’t know how to do this. I need your help.”? Below are a number of questions that will help you determine the appropriate response.
- What are they really asking?
- How do you know what kind of effort or thinking they have used to get to this point?
- Do they just want you to do their work?
- Are they afraid of failing?
- In your corporate culture, is it dangerous for your staff to make mistakes?
Regardless of the reason, it is always a good time to start asking good questions.
If you teach your staff how to ask good questions by modeling expected behaviour, you will find that their problem-solving capabilities soar. Once these skills have been integrated into your culture, the impact is phenomenal.
There are two different ways you can ask questions, with completely different results. One way provokes pessimism, stress, anger and resentment; the other encourages problem solving, learning, optimism and collaboration.
Here are some quick tips for avoiding negative questions and for posing constructive ones.
- Never start a question with “Why?” This has a strong judgmental overtone, and staff members will often respond by justifying their actions rather than thinking through the process. One alternative is to ask, “Can you explain your thought process in this situation?”
- Keep any form of blame out of your question, i.e., “Whose fault is this?” Instead, try asking, “What are the facts as we know them?” or “What are our next steps, and who should be doing them?” These are action questions that will encourage staff members to look for remedies rather than opt for CYA (Cover Your Behind) behaviour that is merely a giant waste of time.
There will still be times when staff members do things that defy logic and drive you crazy; however, allowing those feelings to surface will not benefit anyone. During such times it is best to give yourself a much-needed break and tell the staff member to come to your office in 20 minutes to discuss the next steps. This will give you a cooling down time and allow you to plan questions for holding the person accountable in a way that is productive.
When has asking the right question(s) made a big difference for you? Please share your stories below.
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About Judy: Judy Mackenzie, MBA, CHRP, CEC PCC, owns and operates TEVO Consulting Inc. (www.tevosmallbiz.com), providing services and guidance to small and medium businesses. TEVO’s mission is to assist companies in reaching their strategic goals by developing leadership and people management systems that allow employees to be at their best. Judy believes engaged employees are fundamental to business success, and she designs support and management systems to help people and companies achieve their full potential.