Now ask the tough questions

curtain openingThere is an awareness and desire by good leaders to do more asking than telling. That strategy of asking more questions should be part of every leader’s communication toolkit as a way to get information, be more collaborative, and to obtain important feedback.

Maybe you are working more questions into your leadership communication too.Now it’s time to go a step further and ask different types of questions – the kind that go a step deeper, and may be tougher to ask and to answer.

These deeper questions are more necessary as the complexity of our world – and our workplaces – become more volatile. They have a power to inspire your organization, foster creativity, and to find solutions that might fit your unsolvable dilemmas while helping people to think and imagine.

Minimize asking the questions that can be answered at a surface level like these examples:

Yes/no questions that can be answered all too swiftly and can stop any further conversation. Conversation is what your organization needs to be able to solve complex issues.

Questions whose answer is known already, somewhere – by Googling, asking someone in the know, or doing some research. Questions that have known answers don’t inspire.

Judgmental questions that can make others feel small or defensive. These often start with “Don’t you think….” or “What if you/we…..”. Employees lose their motivation when they feel they’re being judged.

It’s said that Albert Einstein asked himself (paraphrased) “What would it be like if I rode a beam of light across the universe?”, and that question which was initially unanswerable was the beginning of his theory of relativity. It was a really tough question that changed the world.

You, too, can start asking the tough-change-the-world questions with a little practice, a lot of courage, and an open heart. Bump up your question-asking skills by asking the kinds of questions that:

Are open-ended to foster thinking in yourself and others in new, creative ways. Unlike yes/no questions, these open questions will generate all kinds of possibilities.

Don’t have immediate answers and that you – and those who are thinking along with you – might seem difficult to answer. A bit of discomfort in not knowing the answers can be just the ticket for imaginative solutions.

Are future focused and nonjudgmental. Like Albert Einstein’s question, these forward-focused questions that don’t have a judgement embedded in them inspire us to move ahead and take action.

A sample of these really tough questions might be:

  • What possibilities are there here?
  • What could we accomplish with unlimited resources?
  • What could we try if we knew we couldn’t fail?
  • What small steps can we take now?
  • What is the story we will tell about our success a year from now?
  • What are we willing to try?

You may think you’re asking the really tough questions now, but these are tougher to ask (because they take courage) and tougher to answer (because they take patience). Yet they have an energy in them that can propel your organization faster and farther than you could imagine.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.