In conversations with your direct reports, how many of your questions are truly intentional? As in you ask them questions with the primary goal of growing the person in front of you and not just to gather information?
Most of the time we dominate conversations with our opinions, we talk at our people or we plainly tell them what to do. That approach leaves little room for growth for anyone, you or your direct report.
Granted, sometimes under pressure, the most pragmatic approach is to give direction or to instruction someone. But the bigger game is in growing people whenever the opportunity comes up, which is all the time.
So, first up are questions that help draw out the details and feelings that our direct report has. This is important because, if this is a problem you’re helping them resolve, there’s a high probably that the solution is sitting right in that knot – in the details and their feelings, their attachment to an outcome.
So, you could try asking, “What’s coming up for you as you say that?” or “Why do you do that?” …nicely. Remember to watch your tone and timing here. This is a caring question not an interrogation question. There is a difference and your tone matters.
Then there are questions that probe more deeply and encourage us to elaborate as a way of gaining clarity. For most of us, what we first say or articulate isn’t necessarily coherent or joined up thinking. That’s normal. So, a series of questions that get us to elaborate are the best way to sort through the mess in our heads and the feelings in our hearts.
Try asking, “How is that significant?” Or “How is that affecting the team?”
And then how about challenging my assumptions and limiting beliefs. If I trust you and know that you always hold a safe space for me to talk, then it’s game on. Guess what’s sitting in here? Yep, all the things that are going to stop me from following through on something including risks, insecurities, and misunderstandings. Yep, let’s get all those on the table so I can be clear that I know what I need to be sure about.
Still with me? So, what gaps do I need to fill, and what information is missing that I need to make the right call.
Try asking, “Why does this decision need to be made now?” Great for challenging an assumption. Or, “How true is that?” Said with much compassion, this can help challenge a limiting belief.
As a leader who is helping your direct report to think a situation through and get clarity, you can help them work out what questions they should be asking and what questions they need to go away and find answers to. Proper answers, not more opinions and bad interpretations. So, what questions do they need to ask to find evidence and hard facts.
So try asking, “How can you confirm that?” Or “What expectation did they have?”
All this creative and safe thinking is generating a new awareness of themselves and within themselves, at how they are viewing the situation.
And then once our direct report can see their situation clearly, and their trust in us is high, we can invite them to consider alternative explanations or possibilities, and the consequences OF those alternatives alongside their initial ideas.
So try asking, “What are you prepared to try?” to get that exploration going and then “How far can you take that idea?” so that can begin to get familiar and comfortable with the possible outcomes. And guess what? We’ve helped move the conversation forward.
Also remember, that if our conversation partner doesn’t trust us or we don’t have a deep emotional connection, we can’t do this. We haven’t earned their permission to go deep inside their head and their hearts.
This is a very privileged position to be in because wonderful stuff happens here. Our direct report can now begin to imagine or design a different outcome by taking the best steps when they can see things clearly.
There’s no shortcut to getting all of this right – less than 10% of leaders are good at it. It just takes practice.
Sometimes words will fall out wrong. No big deal. Have another go at asking the question. It shows humility and good intention, and your direct report will appreciate you even more for it.