Questions Can Help You Listen Better

There are solid strategic reasons to ask questions.
A few examples:

  • Questions help you shift conversational gears.  They confirm that you, and whomever you’re speaking with, share enough information or understanding to move on.
  • Questions encourage the speaker to stop wandering and focus on what’s important.
  • Questions can help you get reengaged in a conversation that feels boring. They can help you resist an impulse to start lecturing or acting on an untested assumption.

When you’re ready to shift gears it’s important to be sure all parties feel they’re understood.

One of the reasons so many conversations loop back to feelings or data already covered—a prime reason for boredom and frustration—is a feeling that the other person doesn’t really understand your position. Ask questions to keep the conversation moving forward:

  • Is there something you’re saying that you’d like to be sure I understand? I’ll tell you what I heard and you can let me know if I’ve got what you’re saying.
  • Would it be helpful for me to summarize the points I think are important? I don’t want to keep going if we don’t understand each other.
  • Any part of what I said that you’d like to ask a question about? Or conversely: Can I ask you a couple of specific questions to be certain I understand what you think is important?

Questions can focus the conversation on what’s important.

Conversations have a tendency to wander unless at least one person keeps bringing attention to (talking or asking about) focusing on the important aspects. Questions are a way to help the other person focus:

  • Is there a specific part of what you said that you’d like to underline for me?
  • I have a couple of specific questions, is this a good time to ask them?
  • Is this a good time to summarize what I’ve heard to be sure I’ve got it?

Questions can help you refocus when you’re bored or even when you’re tired of taking the high road and are tempted to just join the other person in pushing your opinion without listening.

Formulating a question encourages you to strategize about how to influence the conversation to get focused, get shorter, or to lean in a direction that is more interesting to you. Questions engage your thinking brain and can help quiet your emotional brain—boredom is an emotional state and impulsive interruptions reflect low emotional regulation.

  • I’d be interested in how what you’re saying might affect how we relate to current clients?
  • Is there a way we can make practical use of this data?
  • What do you think would be the potential timing, if we were to introduce this idea to our teams? I find I’m worried about diminishing our focus on …

The impact of all these questions is based you being truly curious. Questions that are disguised statements—I.e., I think… don’t you agree?—are typically nowhere near as effective in influencing a conversation. Looking for an aspect of the conversation that truly sparks your curiosity may take effort, but can pay big rewards in increased loyalty and creativity of team members, clients who stick with you, and a wider network of people who trust you are someone who listens well.

Questions also let you discover small, important tweaks that can improve you services, products, and client satisfaction. More on this in a future article.

Asking questions can be efficient and respectful. You can move conversations along, while helping your conversation partner feel good about you. Being conversationally efficient, while being respectful isn’t easy, but it is something you can learn. Having difficult conversations can be easier when you know how to ask good questions.

If you’d like to learn how to craft questions and how to ask curious questions more often, why not call or email us? Increasing your positive connection with your team may be just a few question marks away.

Surprising Problems with Praise

Despite the common advice of many business coaches, praise can demotivate your team and make them skeptical. Praise, like sweeteners, needs to come in measured amounts and not taste artificial.

People do experience meaning and satisfaction when they hear those they respect value their contributions. But it doesn’t it follow that we should therefore lavish praise on members of our teams.

Research points out that too much or insincere praise creates less than desirable results. This appears to be true both at work and with our families. Overdone or generalized praise is quickly dismissed as worth little. If everything is “great”, then you’re not believable. Overusing expressions like “Amazing!” “Wow Experience!” “Great Job!” all lead other people to feel that your praise is worth less.

Do you understand what I’m saying? Great job! You’re an amazing reader! Something certainly smells rotten in my praise.

To make praise effective it needs to be sincere, specific and address the actual work or effort. And it needs to come in believable doses.

One clear way to avoid hyperbole and misunderstandings is to share acknowledgements instead of praise. They’re similar, but acknowledgements make a specific statement about the results of a person’s actions. They don’t give a label of good or great. They don’t base an evaluation on your judgment of the person. Acknowledgements speak about the effect of a person’s activities.

For good work that is a tad above a person’s normal performance levels or when a team member finally shows continuity over a period of time try something like:

“I noticed your effort today produced results.”
“I notice your quality is staying higher.”
“I noticed you are trying that approach we talked about.”
“You put some real effort into getting that job done on time. Thank you.”
“Having the reports on time has been helpful.”

Save praise for exceptional situations—and still consider using an acknowledgement instead. If you’re going to fall back on praise, keep it  believable and use it only for above average work. Stick with simple acknowledgements for basic work done well.

********
Developing new leadership and managerial habits takes specific understanding and practice. We can help you:

Learn how to acknowledge and praise wisely
Ask curious questions
Listen effectively
Reward for effort, strategy and progress

And, as a bonus, a healthy dose of acknowledgements and praise from a coach will help you implement habits that will increase your and your team’s performance and satisfaction. Call or email today if you want to set up a time to consider what habits will bring the most leverage to changing your business and your life.

Is Your Life Working Well?

We think about Return on Investment (ROI) only in the context of money and profit, but I want to encourage you to consider investing time to assure your future will generate the happiness you want.  Is your life working for you?  Could it use a small tweak to work optimally, or does it need more? I want to touch on some things to think about when you are considering a transition. Read on!

I’ve discussed transitions, one of my favorite topics, in previous posts. The question of what you’re going to do in the next phase of your life trips many people up. We often assume we know what will make us happy, but discover almost too late that happiness is still elusive.

Research and experience show that happiness comes to each of us in a number of flavors, some of which melt rather quickly. It may help to consider what flavor or level of happiness you want to put your effort into pursuing. You have options whether you’re looking at a career change, thinking of adding an avocation or hobby, or searching for a complete makeover.

Positive psychologists—those professionals who look at strengths and successes—talk about three phases of happiness: pleasure, engagement (or flow), and meaning.

Pleasure

This is the simply feeling good part of happiness—going to the beach, taking a trip, trying a new restaurant, buying a new piece of clothing or car, watching the sunset, and so on. If you are working really hard now and contemplating cutting back, time for more of those pleasure moments may be enough— a chance to relax and take a break from any responsibilities.

Engagement

To many people’s surprise, even really great pleasure of the first kind gets old after a while. Boredom, restlessness, or loneliness usually begins to creep in. That’s when you may realize you need the second level of happiness, engagement—something you can sink your teeth into a bit. Maybe study the piano, plan a garden, join a Makers group, start playing golf again, pick up a hobby, study a language—i.e. engagement with other people or activities that are personally interesting, or that matter to you.

Meaning

Some of us will get hungry for something even bigger—creating a legacy or just wanting to give back. This can happen throughout our lives; for some of us, the need increases as we cut back our money making activities. We want to give back—to offer our talents, services, energy to those who can use it. We seek meaning— a feeling of having a larger purpose and contributing something to others and to society.

Any transition is likely to be more satisfying if you’ve set your sights on the level of happiness that will give you the type of pleasure you’re looking for. Here are a few steps to play with to get you started:

Think about how to create possibilities for yourself

If you know what you want, think about ways to get support to begin creating it.

If you’re feeling restless to make a change, but don’t know what direction to go in, try something. Try and then adjust as you learn. It’s better than standing still in frustration or confusion.

Research is one form of action—get online, interview people who are doing “it,” read books about transition or happiness, ask a coach.

Plan a goal and some details

Whether you’re still working, working part time or almost retired, plan! We often can’t wait to get “there.” But once we reach our goal, we face a blank slate and a “What now?” vacuum that is very uncomfortable. Begin to plan some of the details now.

Think about how to make your life richer and more resilient with a diversified life portfolio—different areas of happiness so that one or more will continue to be viable and interesting. What would a satisfying day to day life look like? Would it have social connections, exercise, learning opportunities, giving to the community and family? What else?

Either way, please take the time to make the changes that will make a big difference in your life—at work and at home.

Lately so many clients have been looking for assistance with a transition in their lives that I want to announce that I will be facilitating a group on making a transition in your life. My “What’s Next” group will help you think more clearly about the what, when and how of making a major transition in your work or personal life.