The same framed piece of art hung on my grandparent’s living room wall my entire life — horses frightened by a dark storm. Each horse seems to be bunched up against the next, facing opposite directions. It’s hard to decipher how many horses are in the pack and which tail belongs to which head? Equally unclear is whether the storm is coming or going. It was just a picture to me until the day my uncles were standing in front of it asking questions: How many horses are there? Which way is the storm moving? Not many Christmases past without someone standing in front of those horses asking good questions. As a child, those questions made me think and caused me to get beyond the surface.
Among the best leaders are people who ask authentic, genuine, creative questions. Questions push you beyond the surface and into real engagement. Conversations are places to engage and connect. Directives are neither engaging nor connecting. Questions like, “Why didn’t you . . . ?” and “Who did this?” are accusations — simply ways to assign blame. Along the same lines, forming a question that you already have the answer to is pure manipulation. Directives and manipulation crush collaboration and creativity. What would it take for you to start asking your family, your friends, your co-workers authentic, engaging questions?
To engage and connect with people, we need to draw them into collaboration. Asking good questions is one of the best ways to accomplish that. Actively listen, reflect what you hear and be aware of what isn’t being said, in order to formulate questions that connect and engage. A great question I heard recently is: What would have to be true for us to reach the desired outcome? Take note that no one said, “Who made this mess?” or “Why did this happen?” Simply, what would have to be true for us to reach the desired outcome?
Strangely enough, facts shut down the conversation. A decade ago I was a part of a weekly meeting where one attender was considered the “sage.” She was full of wisdom and much valuable experience. Whatever she said was the truth. End of story. Consequently, when she spoke the conversation was over. No one felt like they had any right to share their thoughts because the facts had been laid out. Rather than line out the facts, ask: What is it that we don’t know? What is it that we haven’t thought of? What is your perspective on this?
As you begin to look for ways to ask questions, the pay offs will be enormous. Not only will you experience genuine engagement and creative solutions to real challenges, but also joint ownership and reduced stress. Try it with your teenagers, your employees, your bosses, your neighbors and see what results. Be brave and ask them: What would have to be true for us to reach the desired outcome? What is it that we don't know?