Recently, a coaching client shared one of their biggest struggles. Their company is going through a season of leadership change. This client has the opportunity to level up and increase their influence in the leadership team.
In the past, they’ve struggled to build effective relationships at the leadership level. They haven’t gained the trust of their colleagues needed to influence executive level decisions.
When we dug in, we identified a much needed, but very difficult behavior change—the art of asking good questions.
One of the most common mistakes I see new and even seasoned leaders making is giving answers when they should be asking questions. I know I’ve been guilty of this, especially early in my leadership career.
I mean it makes sense. After all, you’ve spent years developing a ton of experience. Why not share it? And after all, the people in the room did ask a question. Why shouldn’t you give the answer?
At the heart of this client’s story was the desire to build trust, respect, and influence. Their heart was in the right place. Wouldn’t you agree?
Don’t let your how get in the way of your what.
See, they felt like the more they gave answers, the more trust, authority, and influence they would build. But for some reason, it never really worked out that way. They ended up being seen as abrasive, someone the others couldn’t trust, someone who was out to build their own empire—not a team player. Their whole approach just rubbed people the wrong way.
We created a new plan. Changed the narrative. We started working on developing and asking good questions. Instead of giving the answer, they would create time and space for others, invite them in, make them part of the conversation by asking good questions.
What does this look like?
Well, imagine you’re trying to create an organizational or process change. While it’s likely going to benefit the company long term, it will be met with resistance at some point.
One approach is to defend or justify the change. This typically looks like you providing all the reasons why they should make the change. Making your argument. Showing people how effective it will be.
Eventually, you might be able to wear them down. Get them to give in.
You might even win the battle. But you’ve just lost the war.
In case you’re still wondering, speaking from personal experience and on behalf of a few hundred coaching clients, this approach isn’t very effective.
The alternative approach is to ask good questions, invite people in, make them part of the conversation. So, instead of lawyering up and litigating your case, ask what their concerns are, where the gaps in your strategy are, and how you could address their concerns.
This one took me years to learn.
Change the narrative
The asking good questions approach lets others know you’re truly interested in them, lowers their defenses, and sets you up as a partner and ally instead of the opposition or troublemaker.
The next time you’re in a meeting and chomping at the bit for the chance to jump in, share your infinite wisdom, and show just how much you know—STOP.
Take a breath.
Ask a question.
Try something like, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “That sounds like you’re concerned. What can we do to achieve a better outcome next time?”
And then listen. You might learn something.
Send me some of the best questions you hear this week and I’ll share them in the next edition.
As always, I’m just an email or phone call away.