Asking Questions…Necessary, But Are They Engaging or Off-Putting?
It is very important to ask questions, after all, that’s how we gain understanding, clarity and knowledge. When doing so, it’s important to ask in a way that will lead to even more understanding. I mean, how many times have you come out of a meeting and said, I didn’t understand what XYZ was or now who is doing what? None of us should ever be afraid to ask anything, but HOW we ask can open doors or slam them shut.
Since I was a little girl, I was told I asked too many questions. From my parents, to the priest (yes in catechism) and to date, my husband, although he has adapted…lol. Since I can remember, as I listened to others, I would have a list of running questions in my head and once I got a chance to speak, I would rapidly fire question after question. Now, coming from a little girl, it can be cute and perhaps a bit annoying, but coming from an adult, off putting and irritating. Imagine being on the receiving end of that, ahh… maybe you have?
As I shot out my barrage of questions, I noticed I was usually getting one of three types of responses: none, vague, or partial. Plus, the recipients’ body language and voice tone morphed to less than inviting. My approach was not as fruitful as I wanted it to be, so I asked my closest connections for feedback. From their constructive criticism and my own awareness, I decided to dissect my approach.
I first had to understand what was behind my overbearing tactic, well I’m a doer and I like to understand things as quickly as possible so I can either solve them or empower others to resolve them. I also like to dig into things, so the more questions I ask, the more questions come up. My intentions were good, but my delivery wasn’t.
I started to think about how I feel when people ask me questions and I realized it depends upon their approach and tone. If the tone has an urgency to it and they continually ask me question after question, I begin to feel irritated, defensive and at times insecure, because I feel my knowledge is being challenged. When I am asked through relaxed conversation and casual tone, I feel engaged and eager to share information. This inviting approach makes me feel like they have an interest in what I have to say, they see me as having knowledge to help them find out information, and they feel they can learn something from me.
I decided to demonstrate the root reason I was asking so many questions; I started approaching others with curiosity, because that is what I am, curious. I wanted to make people feel like I viewed them as individuals who could offer me insight and not like I was conducting an interrogation, so I started to preface my inquires with, I’m curious. For example: I am curious to hear and understand what led to this approach, big difference from, why did you do this that way? As I was incorporating this new style, I noticed people naturally wanted to educate me, enlighten me, provide me with knowledge. This created informative dialogue that transformed into sharing best practices, opinions and ideas. I noticed my relationships enhanced, the synergies at work strengthened and people didn’t shut down, appear to feel threatened or defensive, because I was now showing them my true curiosity about what they had to say and how they did certain things. The change in outcome was pure validation.
My newfound approach has made an impact on me and others. I’ve had people give me feedback on how they like my approach and how they have learned from it. I was also told by a colleague that I have a way of inquiring about practices, processes or operations that doesn’t make people feel defensive or like they have been doing things wrong all along. My new style has proven to be beneficial in my leadership work, hands down.
Seeking understanding of why my former method had not yielded better results was an eye opener. If I hadn’t of put myself in others’ shoes, I would have carried on with limited findings and wouldn’t have realized the depth of information and collaboration I was missing out on. My freshened-up style has led to stronger relationships, professionally and personally, and made me a better leader and listener. By replacing my speedy question and answer technique with softened asks, open ears and engaged dialogue, my alliances continue to grow and flourish.
I’m curious…what’s your style?