I signed up for a leadership program a while back to learn how I could be an innovative leader, more strategic, more action-oriented. A two-day class would give me all the secrets to success I thought. Who wouldn’t want to enroll? I even got my boss to agree to let me attend (and pay for it!) because I told him I would tackle that “be more strategic” personal development goal we had identified on my last performance review. It was all too amazing to pass up.
When I got back from the two days, he asked, “What did you learn?” I said I learned how to ask questions. He said, “Hmm, really?” I said, “Yup, really. I was surprised to find out just how powerful asking a question can be.”
Asking questions, listening to the replies, and acknowledging what I heard made up the three seemingly simple practices that completely shifted how I now get work done. And while these may sound simple to do, they’re not.
I figured I could start practicing my skills right after I’d meet my deadline or gotten through all the projects I needed to finish, right? I didn’t want to bother my work mates with lots of questions – they were busy. And so, the roadblocks set in. When we discussed the practice in class, I often heard things like “there’s no time for asking questions,” “it’s too touchy-feely,” or “it takes more time than I want to invest and keeps me from getting my work done.”
When I finally forced, and I do mean forced, myself to practice the skills as I did in that class, I discovered that asking my workmates questions helped me uncover the barriers that were getting in the way of getting results. I realized there were barriers I didn’t even know existed because I never asked about them. As I continued to practice, I also discovered that I didn’t have to come up with all the answers all by myself all the time. By asking, I found out more and learned more that benefitted the work of all my teammates and in the end helped us collectively get work done quicker and in many ways, much more efficiently. Sound lofty? Probably from just reading this, yes, but I say give them a try and see what you find out.
Here are three steps that will build stronger work relationships:
First, ask questions. Ask questions to engage people. Engaging people opens doors. We like when doors are opened for us. As humans, we want to help.
Second, be ready to listen. Be focused, engaged, and ready to take in information. That means looking at the person who’s responding to you, nodding as you’re hearing what they’re saying, and maintaining eye contact as you’re listening. It shows that you are interested in what’s being said and that you care about what’s being said. And guess what? As humans, we like it when we’ve been heard. You might get even more ideas than you originally thought.
Third, acknowledge what you’ve heard. It can be as simple as, “Oh I see.” Or you may want to ask a follow-up question to get more information and keep the dialogue going. You could even repeat back what you thought you heard - it helps with what you think you understood.
Here’s the thing. We’re all human and when we connect as humans, it makes us feel valuable. When we feel valued and listened to, we want to do even more. It starts with a question.
For more information on good question-asking and listening habits to transform your business, including our Empathy Camp workshops, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the conversation on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.