Just Ask

by Translation Guy on September 23, 2011

What is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of communication skills? I’m so glad I asked, because I already know the answer. It’s the question. Know what I mean? Questions are incredibly useful in spreading love and influence. Think about it. Just like you, everybody else is a lot more interested in what they have to say than what the other guy is going on about. You can see it in their eyes sometimes, when they are just waiting for you to shut up so that they can get a word in edgewise. Wait a minute. That’s a pretty revealing remark, because I do go on. Call it CEO halitosis, when the boss just seems to love the stink of his own coffee breath. That’s what they used to say about Hitler and Stalin, too. You could never get a word in edgewise, and look what they accomplished.

There are a lot of interesting language things going on there, but my interest is a lot more practical, as in how can I do better by those around me? As a boss, it’s hard for people to figure out what you want if you don’t ask. If you tell, they just won’t listen, or worse, they will, and they’ll do it your way instead of the best way, because you didn’t ask. Beyond fetching coffee, everybody on the team has to buy in, and to buy in they have to own, and to own they have to own the idea. Special asking bonus—ask the questions in a way that helps them get in front of the mental obstacles we all put up between a good idea and execution.

Now, I’m sure those of my staff who are reading this blog are snorting in disbelief since, like the Pirate’s Code, on my watch this is more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast rule.

So call it a practice, as in “I’m practicing.”

Business coach Gary Cohen has written a book about this art, Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions. Based on interviews with almost 100 business big shots, Gary shows how to harness the power of questions to build a better organization. Since 95% of employees would rather ask than be told, it’s a way to build a great environment that grows the team and the business. It’s a hell of a lot easier on the boss too, since he’s no longer hobbling around on a peg-leg. See how you score with this assessment Gary has put together.

Gary has been my coach on this and other matters since 2004, and my experience working with him has been absolutely transformative. As a business coach, I can’t recommend him enthusiastically enough, and as a great friend, I’m glad to have the chance to plug his work.

Ask and you shall receive. A boss who actually listens has the opportunity to understand what his team already knows.


  1. ….and they’ll do it your way instead of the best way…

    Wow, what a piercing remark.
    Yes, I tend to be very selfish. Or I should say it’s my second nature to be selfish. I could pretend well to listen while I’m really not. In doing so, I let the best way slip away. I’m trying to learn. I want to keep the best way.

    Thanks, sir.

  2. Tracy Davis says:

    I would have to agree with you Ken. My boss at Beyond the Classroom has done precisely that, and it has created this wonderfully open, supportive and organically growing work environment that we all feel a part of.

    • Ken says:

      Make sure you send him a link to this post, Tracy, and then ask him if he’s read the comments.

  3. As a person in a position of leadership, I can tell you that nothing annoys me more than an employee with too many questions.

    • Ken says:

      Have you ever played the question game, where everytime someone asks you a question, you ask a question back, and the first one to make a statement loses?

  4. Wayne Dunn says:

    They may say they want to ‘hear you out’ but really they do not care about what you have to say!

    • Ken says:

      Agreed. Asking is hard enough, listening is even harder.

  5. Kyle Finley says:

    Unfortunately I don’t think a lot of bosses are at that level yet. They may say they want to hear input and questions, but really they just want to do it their way.

  6. DLKAPA says:

    Did the assessment, didn’t do too bad. Highly suggest others try it too.

  7. There is a difference between a question that asks someone to do something vs. a question that asks for clarification vs. one that is suggesting something new be tried or done differently. The distinction needs to be made, as all questions are not created equal!

  8. I welcome thoughtful and thought provoking question. However, much of what I hear on a daily basis from employees I wouldn’t consider as critical thinking.

    • Ken says:

      I suppose that’s a good reminder to us management types to make sure our questions are of the right kind.

  9. there is such a thing as stupid questions.

  10. Heff says:

    Questions go both ways!

  11. If a boss knows the right question to ask, then he is closer to that magical “buy in” that gets everyone on board and the job done.

  12. Mariska says:

    Ah, Socrates would be proud!

  13. Jackie Desai says:

    Coming from an educational background, I can’t say enough how much better things are when others ask questions. Not only do they get a better understanding of what’s going on, but they also feel like they came up with the idea first.

  14. Faith says:

    When my boss askes me a question I feel important. I actually feel like an important part of the team when my opinion or my answer is considered. I think it also builds trust between employers and employees.

  15. Allan Norton says:

    I can’t stand people who don’t let others talk. It’s as if they their talking to hear themselves. Half the time it’s the same babble over and over!

  16. Brad Eason says:

    If you ask the right question…you get the right answer. Saves everyone time.

  17. Jim Stewart says:

    If the boss listens he (or she) should be able to find out what the others know, but often is the case when the boss “knows it all” and I’m wasting my time trying to ask questions that when my boss looks at me I feel like I stupid and I should already have known the answer

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