Communications in the Workplace: The Five Rules of Questioning
By: Jeb Blount, author of People Follow You: The Real Secret to What Matters Most in Leadership (Wiley, 2011)
When it comes to coaching, training and other communications in the workplace, questions are king.
Learning and practicing effective questioning skills is central to effective leadership.
These five rules of questioning will guide you in asking employees the right questions, at the right time, in the right way, enabling you to generate effective communications in the workplace.
Rule #1: People Won't Tell You the Whole Truth Until They Feel Connected to You
Because you are the boss, people naturally have their wall up. Connecting is designed to pull the wall down. You connect by listening, giving people your complete attention, and being genuinely interested in what they have to say.
Rule #2: Ask Easy Questions First
To get people to reveal their problems, roadblocks, concerns, and feelings, you need them to talk. The more they talk, the more problems they will reveal.
To make it easy for people to talk, begin conversations with questions that are easy to answer and that they will enjoy answering. Once they feel comfortable talking, the door will open to ask deeper or more direct questions designed to trigger self-awareness.
Rule #3: People Communicate with Stories
In conversations, people don't spit out facts. Instead they tell stories. When you listen attentively and patiently, you foster effective communication skills that encourage the speaker to expand on and tell more stories. The clues that lead to roadblocks and opportunities to coach, train, and develop are buried inside these stories.
Rule #4: Be Empathetic — Follow Emotional Cues to Problems
Listening deeply with your eyes, ears, and heart will lead you to emotional cues like voice inflection, facial expressions, and body language that indicate that a story point or issue has emotional significance. When you find these cues, use follow-up questions to dig deeper. This is where real problems, wants, and needs will be revealed.
Rule #5: Never Make Assumptions
Many leaders assume that they know exactly what people need. After a little questioning, they move right into pontificating. They dump their answers on the other person who eventually just tunes them out. Leaders assume, rather than ask questions, because they are in a hurry, bored, impatient, or lack empathy.
Besides all of the obvious pitfalls of assuming, there is also an emotional trap. No one, not you, not me, not the people who work for you, likes to be told that we are not unique. We resent it. We want to be treated as individuals.
Bonus Rule: Do Not Answer Your Own Questions
When you ask hard questions of people, they will often attempt to freeze you out with silence. People have learned that the best way to get out of the hot seat is to just stare back at their manager. The manager, intimidated by this silence and impatient to move on, rewards this behavior by answering his own question — usually as a run-on sentence. The coachee then walks away, off the hook, and nothing changes.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. from People Follow You: The Real Secret to What Matters Most in Leadership by Jeb Blount. Copyright (c) 2012 by Jeb Blount. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.
Jeb Blount, author of People Follow You: The Real Secret to What Matters Most in Leadership, publishes Sales Gravy magazine, read by more than 270,000 sales professionals each month. He is the founder of SalesGravy.com, a destination site for sales professionals, executives and business owners.