Voltaire had it right, when a long time ago he said “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” Questions trump directions. In fact, I would to so far as to say that the question mark is the golden child of punctuation!
When you give directions, the person’s ‘rational brain’ may be listening, but this won’t necessary help with recall or ownership. Questions are more likely to lead to self-discovery and insight. Solving a puzzle is inherently rewarding to the brain – it engages the ‘emotional brain’ and increases the chance they will remember and apply the learning.
Stop telling – start asking.
The March-April 2017 Harvard Business Review* has an excellent article ‘Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why executives should talk less and ask more questions’. The hypothesis is that the CEO’s greatest responsibility is to recognise when a major change in direction is needed. And yet the power and privilege of being a CEO can leave you insulated from the information that allows you to detect the need for change. The antidote for this is to ask more questions.
Here’s a simple way to build your awareness around questions. Monitor a conversation you have with someone who reports to you. Notice your ‘Ask:Tell ratio’. How often are you asking searching questions that cause them to think and leads them to their own answers? How many times do you tell them what to do? What could happen if you upped the percentage of ask?
And how about your team meetings? How often are you in broadcast mode, spouting forth the latest updates and parroting key corporate messages? And how often are you challenging your team to think, encouraging them to relate corporate messages to their own work and life? Monitor the next team meeting that you lead for your Ask:Tell ratio.
What could be possible when you Tell less and Ask more? Go on – try it out this week and notice the difference.
* Gregersen, Hal (2017 March-April). Bursting the CEO Bubble: Why executives should talk less and ask more questions. Harvard Business Review, p78