What is the measure of a great question?
First, it creates attention. Someone actually listens. Then maybe even thinks, rather than just reacts. Second, it changes the perception of what’s important.
Two Important Skills
In the past year, I’ve been engaged in the promotion of my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change.
By talking directly to a lot of people every day, I improved upon two important skills.
The first skill is my initial statement to people who want to know what my book is about. We can call this my pitch for them to catch.
If it is a regular person, I’ll say, “It is a book on personal impact for people in transition.”
Or, if it is clear they are a business person, I’ll say, “It is for businesses who are in transition who want to elevate the leadership capacity of their people.”
Both pitches almost never fail to capture the interest of people. However, that is not the most important skill.
Asking great questions takes lots of practice with lots of listening. Not just average listening, but attentive to details like watching the facial expressions that a particular question or statement evokes. What I found is that the two pitches above brought surprised looks that were followed by stepping closer to my table. In this sense, body language matters.
The Initial Question
When a person comes up to me at an event, and after our conversation has been initiated, I ask: “So, what do you do?”
Notice, I am not interested in their title or who they work for. Those are status statements that are not very informative about a person.
I am interested in how they fill up the hours of each day. Why is this important? It tells me what their value to the company is. A title is just a structural position. The company just tells me what industry they are in.
If they tell me what they do, I can better understand how what they do interfaces with people and the purpose of the company. This question is important because some people are not even connected to a business. And yet, they all do things each and every day. What we DO is more of a definition of who we are than any title or sociological designation.
Asking Three Key Questions
One afternoon, I had a guy tell me that his team was working well. I then asked him three questions.
“Is your team clear about its purpose and the values that inform their purpose?”
The range of response is broad. It is not my place to judge. Their judgment is what matters.
The guy responds, “Yeah. We’re pretty clear on what our jobs are.”
By that answer, I suspect that their values are not clearly aligned to their work. More like good ideas for inspiration, but not ideas for measuring quality or impact.
When corporate values lack clarity of impact, purpose-creep can happen. Purpose-creep is when values are replaced with organizational policies. They aren’t the same.
“Is there respect between the members of your team, with those who work with them, and, from those who are your team’s customers?”
This is often the question that wakes people up. Respect and trust are hard to build and quite easy to destroy.
I find that organizational leaders will affirm respect. However, if you talk to the people who are not in positions of authority, they will often say that respect is missing.
Respect is a measure of the quality of a relationship. Having a conversation with a person about their business is seeking to understand the measure of respect within the company. Asking this question is an act of respect. We should not forget this. In many respects, it is the question above all questions today.
“Is it clear to your team what their impact should be?”
I want to know if the team understands how their work – what they do – is integral to the success of the company.
If a person or a team can understand the value their work has to the company, then they can more easily see how they are respected members of the team.
The Impact of Asking Questions
There is a two-fold purpose in learning to ask really great questions.
In seeking for clarity of thought, conversations between people become capacity building exercises. This is how teams improve their performance.
With clarity of thought comes better decision-making, stronger strategic plans, and commitment to excellence in the execution of those plans.
The impact of capacity building conversations is that each person knows their role and the expectations that come with it. When people know where they stand, confidence grows. The ultimate goal is for each person to be ready and willing to take initiative to make a difference that matters.
All this comes from being able to ask the right questions that bring clarity, establish respect, and build a level of teamwork which exceeds expectations.