While we’ve been providing online communication training to a lot of leaders lately, we’re focusing on how we stay aligned with our teams when we’re all so spread out. We’re all moving so fast that even when we take the time to check in, we tend to rush through the process. We might ask to see how folks are doing, but the way we do it is hurried, with our questions eliciting the barest of replies (“You have what you need?” “Yeah, I’m good.”)
By Stuart Luth
One simple and powerful way to change this dynamic is by converting our standard closed questions into open ones. That way Do you have what you need? becomes What do you need right now? And suddenly… the other person starts to open up. A few of my favorite short open questions include:
Tell me more.
What’s behind that?
How would that work?
What challenges are you facing?
Many of us, by default, ask closed questions. There are a lot of reasons for this: standard education, where there’s often only one “correct” answer; self-absorption (hey, we all have a lot on our plates); fear of not having the answer… the list goes on. But whatever the case, making this shift can be game-changing. (Try converting Are there any questions? to What questions do you have? and watch your meetings transform.)
Even though I coach this stuff, it can still be hard for me to do sometimes. My instinct is to make people feel comfortable, and open questions can challenge people in ways that make them uncomfortable. But over time and with continuous effort, it gets easier.
How do I know? Here’s a sampling of short open questions I asked my nearly-four-year-old son, Auren, over the last week:
Why are you doing this?
When will you stop?
What’s your problem?
What did mommy say?
Where did you get that?
What were you thinking?
What did you say?
Say that again.
What would it take to get you to sleep?
And boy did they elicit interesting responses!
What open questions have you found to be useful in working with your teams?
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