A View from Blue Grotto

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Q & A

Whether you’re the boss or the direct report, interrogation is never easy. Sometimes you won’t like the answers to your questions and sometimes you’re not asking the right questions. In the October 2006 Harvard Management Update, Judith Ross says the later may be the real problem. In her article Real Leaders Ask, Ross outlines suggestions on how to ask effective, and more importantly, empowering questions.

By asking for an employee’s input, managers convey that they value a member of their team’s ideas and, in turn, the employee becomes more confident and competent. Ross adds that empowering questions build more than just confidence, empowering questions help to develop critical problem solving skills.

Ross urges managers to model effective questioning, recognizing when you may be asking questions that demand a negative result, like leading questions (the ones you know the answer to or hope to influence), and striving instead for questions that create value. Don’t assume everyone is on the same page when it comes to problem solving. Everyone may not even yet agree on the problem. Effective questions by a leader can help to move your team to alignment on an issue and more quickly to a solution.

I appreciated two of her examples of how empowering questions create value: that they encourage breakthrough thinking, and that they create ownership of solutions. Two fundamentals most organizations find themselves continually in pursuit of.

My favorite line in her article was a quote of Michael Marquardt, professor of human resources and international affairs at George Washington University, who asked each of his direct reports: “What one idea and/or strategy that we are not currently implementing do you believe would best contribute to the success of our company?” Can you imagine the responses?

Empowering questions are yet another tool in the arsenal of internal communications. Email me with examples of other ways you have found to communicate more effectively with people in your organization.

P.S. I also liked Ross’ examples of poorly-worded questions like “Why are you behind schedule?” and “Is this a good time to talk?” Both made me shudder.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.