The Power of Questions

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We find ourselves in the grips of the day without much time and a lot to do. We go into meetings with our personal and secret agenda being that the meetings end quickly. We are attached to electronic communications for work, family, and other parts of our life. I recently read something that made it very clear to me … I don’t ask enough questions and then listen to the answers. In meetings my favorite question unfortunately is all too often: “What’s Next?.”

In the May-June Harvard Business Review Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John collaborated on the article: “The Surprising Power of Questions”. The ‘power’ they have proven through scientific research manifests in better interpersonal relationships, better team performance, better leadership, better individuals.

They reference the quote from Dale Carnegie’s 1936 book: “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, in which he wrote the simple yet powerful advice – ‘Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering’.

Beyond that, as IT Executives we have a responsibility to build our teams and manage efficient and effective processes (along with the technology thing as well). Think about the power of every couple of months dropping in on the Weekly Change Review Board Meeting and instead of listening – asking good questions that everyone should be asking and answering. The modeled behavior will not just improve those meetings that will happen without you in the room but will also make it clear that this is important.

Think of your one-on-one meetings with your team, your vendors, your partners/colleagues across the enterprise and think what might happen if you asked questions that they would enjoy answering. And then (according to the research in HBR) you intensely listened to the answers in order to fully understand and develop a second set of questions to clarify.
Think of the power of “What can I do for you?” or “What do you want to see happen?” and my new favorite when talking to colleagues about what they want to see done/happen – “What does success in that look like to you?” (I submit that question is much better than starting to tell them why what they want cannot happen in reality).

The lesson is not new or ground breaking – it is part of being present. We all need to be present more – with our families, friends, work colleagues, partners, and even our Bassett Hounds (if you are lucky enough to have one).

One final thought about the HBR article – there is also tremendous power in sessions like whiteboarding (or something similar) where any answer can easily and quickly be erased and the brainstorming or conversation direction adjusted naturally.

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