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.