The next time you head into a meeting where an important issue is about to be discussed, pay attention to the number and kinds of questions asked in the meeting. This is one good way to assess the quality, depth and effectiveness of the discussions you are having in your organization. High-quality discussions should produce greater insight and clarity around difficult or complex problems and help tease out the best course of action. Clarity cannot be effectively reached unless the discussion environment encourages penetrating and sufficient levels of inquiry. This is what All-In leaders create in their work environments.
In his powerful workshop on precision questioning, Vervago co-founder Dennis Matthies stresses that the practice of asking direct questions and not accepting answers at face value is the “backbone of daily work.” Matthies tells us that the purpose of questions is “to test our thinking” around complex issues or problems. However, in the typical work meeting or board discussion, questions are minimal and opinions abound. When questions are asked, in too many cases the intention isn’t to test thinking or understand a person’s opinion; its to build a counter argument or push a particular position. This type of questioning does little to illuminate important information that can lead to valuable insight and better decision-making for the group. It also indicates an unwillingness to be open to alternative points of view or having our minds changed by new data or emerging insights.
Here is something to try right away.
Choose an upcoming meeting where a meaty issue will be discussed. Make a commitment to hold off on giving your opinions and instead engage in the practice of asking questions that are just about making sure you understand what a person is saying— not questions that are about confirming or refuting an opinion. Just try this small step and see what happens.
For example, your executive team has to make a decision about whether or not to pursue a potentially expensive alternative strategy to increase the organization’s revenue. Your job is to listen closely to your co-workers’ opinions and make sure to ask what Matthies calls, “clarification” questions. The purpose of these questions is in part to surface meaning and understanding. To continue our example, lets say one of your executive team members believes the organization should wait longer before making a strategy change. Instead of asking, “Why should we wait?,” ask “When you say we need to wait longer before making a change, do you mean wait 3 more months, 6 more months or some other length of time?” The idea here is to bring as much specific understanding to the discussion before dissecting the merits or validity of the opinions being offered.
Warning: Folks in the meeting might get a little annoyed at you for seeming to play ‘CIO” (chief interrogator officer), but forge ahead. They’ll get used to it and likely appreciate the clarity and understanding these types of questions elicit. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even start to copy you.
Dennis Matthies’ group, Vervago, offers a terrific range of tools on how to build a culture of “precision questioning” in your organization. You can learn more at http://www.vervago.com.