If A Leader Could Only Do One Thing, 4

“…Inquire to learn. And only to learn. You can tell whether a question will help the conversation or hurt it by thinking about why you asked it. The only good answer is “To learn.” Stone, Douglas; Patton, Bruce; Heen, Sheila. “Difficult Conversations.”

Don’t act out of selfish ambition or be conceited. Instead, humbly think of others as being better than yourselves.  Don’t be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

This is one of those post series that has been made by readers.

I originally intended to write just the first – telling the story of when I was asked if I could name a “most important” leadership competency. But then the views and email questions came and so I’ve been, in essence, answering questions since then. As always, I so appreciate and value leaderhelps.com readers. I never take you for granted but pray for you regularly.

In part 1 , I wrote about answering the following question in one of my lectures:  “I understand that the most effective leaders do several things well, but if you had to choose just one, what would it be?” Although there are many important leadership competencies, I chose listening.

In part 2, I covered the essential reason for listening. Then, in part 3, I tried to approach some of the nuts and bolts of the act of empathic listening, including discussing key questions to ask in exercising the 70/30 principle.

That continues here. (Please note I’ve listed some key resources at the end of the post.)

Asking questions is critical to empathic listening and an important aspect of the 70/30 principle. And, if you want to be known as a great listener, you have to become effective at asking questions (and then shutting up and listening).

But be careful about the motivation for asking your question. If the reason you’re asking a particular question is any other than learning and understanding the other person, the situation, the problem, etc., don’t ask it. For instance, don’t ask a question to make a statement or to fire a shot over the other person’s bow.

Aubrey and Jamie 3Aubrey and Jamie

Here are some examples of questions that aren’t really questions:

Did you really think the congregation would respond well to that video?
Are you sure you want to send the email with that wording?
Didn’t you realize how I would react when you said that?
You can’t really see this as my fault, can you?
How can you say my feelings don’t matter?
How do you explain how you have so consistently failed to reach your sales goals when everyone else met theirs?
Are these goals only optional to you?
Are you going out like that?
(From the passenger seat) What’s the speed limit through here?
Are you going to pick your socks off the floor?

You get the idea. Often, we revert to these questions-that-aren’t-really-questions because of the way we feel about the situation at hand. They are our way of hiding behind strong emotions such as frustration, anger, weariness, etc.

The problem with this approach is that it is more likely to cloud understanding or to cause both people to dig-in defensively. And that’s not the reason you listen in the first place.

You listen to deepen understanding, grow the relationship and solve problems. The best listeners work hard on removing any behavior that doesn’t contribute to those three motivations.

So be sure your questions are actual questions, with a goal to truly learn with each.

Suggested Resources

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership

Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well


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