We know that questions are critical to get to the bottom of things. After all, as a leader you want to understand things… So surely all questions are good? Perhaps not!
The ‘intent’ behind you question is critical. Is your question from a place of curiousity, and designed to advance the conversation? Or is your question coming from a place of knowing? Worse still, does it have a tone of accusation? Are you hoping to show someone up? Yep – it happens!
Questions that are well thought through and asked with the right intent have the power to build mutual understanding, trigger insight, stimulate valuable discussion, create opportunity and lead towards outcomes.
Conversely, questions asked with the wrong intent can reduce trust, shut down creativity, cause defensiveness, provoke argument, limit discussion and drive outcomes farther away.
While you may think your questions sound open and interesting, others will perceive your intent. Beware of these types of questions:
- Questions dressed up in sheep’s clothing. These are leading questions. They’re not really questions at all despite being punctuated with a question mark. Your intent to control the trajectory of the conversation can leave people feeling trapped and may lead to a defensive response.
- Questions for which you have the answer can leave the listener feeling unsafe because they sense that you know the ‘right’ answer. Your intent to display your knowledge, added to the authority of your role, will result in people wanting to satisfy you, and then move onto something else quickly. Fear of not providing the ‘correct’ response will shut down creative thinking.
- Questions loaded with sting. An open question laden with emotion (such as anger or guilt) will shut down conversation. Your intent to judge will result in people saying as little as possible to satisfy you and end the conversation.
Before you begin a discussion, get clear on your intent. Focus on an intention that will open up the conversation and lead to positive outcomes.