Posted by Carolyn Dickson
Albert Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I knew the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
Unfortunately, because of the American addiction to the quick fix, coming up with the right question is rarely a priority. We leap to unproven assumptions and grab at solutions to undefined problems. We’re impatient with serious exploration, happy to settle into the black and white, let’s-get-this-over-with thinking mode so many of us are comfortable with.
But if Einstein was right (and he was), we need questions—lots and lots of questions. The right question can lead to dialogues that provide insight into the complex problems we face every day.
The art of the question deserves a close examination. So, think about this. To use Einstein’s term, what makes a “proper” question? Actually, they come in two basic types.
Closed questions are short and sweet.
Closed questions can be answered “yes,” “no,” or in a very few words. Use closed questions when you want short, crisp answers to short, crisp questions. Usually, when you ask a closed question, you can reasonably expect the person you’re questioning to have the answer. “Is the report ready for publication?” “Do you expect this project to be completed on time?” “What do you want for lunch?”
Closed questions can be useful in helping individuals make up their minds. “Given what we now know about this client’s ability to pay, shall we charge interest after thirty days or extend their credit to ninety days?”
Asking a closed question is also a nifty way to conclude a lengthy discussion. This is the time closed questions really pay off. “Have we answered all your questions?” “Are we about finished here?”
Open-ended questions “open” the door to dialogue and discovery.
Use open-ended questions when you want to engage someone in conversation. Open-ended questions usually begin with “Who” “What” “When” and “How.” “Why” questions can be a two-edged sword. They can draw out needed information, but at the same time they can put someone on the defensive. So, use “Why” questions with discrimination.
Good open-ended questions have the following qualities:
They are thought provoking.
Open-ended questions require more than a glib, off-the-top-of-the-head response. They deserve a person’s best effort at reflection and deliberation.
They stimulate conversation.
“Do you like your job?” can be answered “yes” or “no,” but will give you no additional information. How much better to ask, “What do you like best about your job?” “What do you like least?”
They evoke more questions.
In this way, you’ll delve deeper and deeper and be much more likely to get to the heart of the matter.
They challenge assumptions.
Assumptions are so often stated as absolute fact that it can become difficult to discern the truth. Probing questions can make all the difference. “What evidence do we have that this is a valid argument?” “Who is the authority on this subject and what experience does she have?”
They invite creativity and new possibilities.
If they’re used “properly,” this is where open-ended questions can be the most effective. “What can we do to turn things around here?” “How can we look at this differently?”
They empower others.
If you always have all the answers, pretty soon I will shut down and quit trying. But if through relevant questioning, you allow me to make my own decisions, I’ll be more cooperative as we go along. “How do you think you should handle this?” “What do you think?”
They allow emotions to be expressed.
In a hard-nosed business environment where feelings can still carry a negative connotation, it’s important to create a climate where people can express their emotions. “What’s your gut reaction to this?” “How do you feel about our decision?”
If your questions include even one or two of these attributes, they will transcend boundaries and pave the way to fruitful discussion. They will lead to more productive meetings and contribute to better understanding and more meaningful relationships. So, what do you think of that?
For more information . . .
Image by Marco Bellucci
Posted by Leslie Dickson
What if you could take 5½ hours of every team member’s work week and make it more productive – including yours? It’s a topic VoicePro clients mention all the time. No wonder. 5.6 hours is the amount of time the average worker spends in meetings, according to one research study. And most respondents say that a lot of that time is unproductive.
Want to be a Meeting Ninja? Chopping endless discussions down to size? Protecting productivity? Using all the right moves to fight boredom, squabbling and wandering minds. Here are 10 tips to help make you a master.
1. Have an agenda. Yes, every time.
A meeting is a type of presentation, which means it deserves the same preparation. Nothing is less productive than spending 10 minutes deciding the topics of discussion – or, worse yet, defining the agenda on a whiteboard at the start of the session. Make your agenda specific and actionable. Of course, people can add to the agenda, but make sure the structure is in place. And, never revise the agenda from the last meeting for the next one. When you start from scratch, you focus on the key goals.
2. Raise expectations. Send out the agenda in advance.
When you show you’re serious about results, others will be, too. An agenda gets people thinking and pulling together their facts (and opinions). It also helps them arrive at the meeting ready to actively engage.
3. Make pre-meeting assignments, if necessary.
All of us have been ten minutes into a meeting only to discover there’s not enough information to make progress, so we disband and postpone. Be certain that your subject experts are ready.
4. Put first things first.
Resist the temptation to “warm up” a meeting with less important topics. Get down to serious business while everyone is at their best. Let the less important topics be shelved if time runs out.
5. Start on time. Don’t reward latecomers.
Ten minutes of small talk waiting for latecomers penalizes people who came on time. Get going at the appointed hour. And don’t recap for latecomers. They’ll soon learn to arrive punctually.
6. Don’t let the discussion wander. And manage the disruptive participants.
It’s so easy for one or two individuals to take a discussion off the rails. Be gentle but quick and firm in bringing people back to the topic at hand. For difficult naysayers, consider acknowledging their point of view, then adding, “Now let’s hear what others have to say.”
7. No phones. No texts. No emails.
This is a problem that’s arrived with the advent of smart phones. You need the full attention of everyone in the room. With rare exception, that should mean the only communication going on is with the people in the room.
8. Manage the number of participants.
Some experts suggest no more than 6; others say 12 is the magic number. Here’s my guideline: invite only the people who truly add to the discussion and decision-making.
9. Send out meeting minutes within 48 hours.
24 hours is even better. The minutes should recap any decisions and list any assignments to be completed, including the responsible person and timeline, if possible. That helps assure progress before the next gathering.
10. Was this meeting really necessary?
Maybe the most productive meeting is the one that doesn’t happen. If you can issue a status report or gather opinions by email, that’s the most effective strategy.
Now practice, practice, practice those meeting moves and, before you know it, you’ll be a master. Now that you’re on your way to becoming a Meeting Ninja, would you like more ideas on how to make presentations, build collaborative teams and increase your influence in your organization? Get in touch with VoicePro® and ask about our Speak! Present! Influence!® Communication Workshop.
Image by Seth W.
Posted by Leslie Dickson
You’ve got very smart people – successful experts in technology, engineering, science, finance or some other specialty. Now their success has earned them a management role, but they seem to be struggling.
It’s not an uncommon situation. And why would it be? Management and leadership are skills that need to be learned and honed like any other. You wouldn’t expect a chemist to become your head of accounting, or your software developer to manage the customer service center – at least not without training. That’s why clients across the country have asked me to facilitate or develop a custom VoicePro® program for technology experts moving into leadership positions. Here are a few of the challenges we tackle.
Shift the focus from projects to people.
For someone who’s built a success on individual contribution, there’s an inclination to put the emphasis on the projects and results. A new leader needs to understand that personal effort is no longer the most effective way to move a team or department forward. Paying attention to guiding and motivating people is the new fulcrum for success, multiplying impact.
Disentangle from the technical jobs.
It is natural to gravitate to handling tasks and challenges in ways that are familiar, and perhaps, thereby easier. A new manager may be tempted to take on his or her old tasks in addition to their new responsibilities. Now two jobs are being done inefficiently. Learning to delegate appropriately allows the new manager to focus on his or her area of responsiblity, while promoting a sense of trust and collaboration within the team.
Switch from tech talk to plain talk.
If the person will be making presentations to non-technical clients or higher ups, the technical jargon that worked well with peers suddenly becomes a barrier to success. A shift in language and presentation materials is likely required. More than that, a new view of what messages are crucial to the audience is likely.
Develop personal presence.
It’s not easy moving from being “one of the guys” to the leader. A new manager may feel timid about the new role, which interferes with authority, trust and authenticity. Personal presence starts with an open, strong posture and good eye contact is essential. Deep breathing can help allay stress, and enable a strong, clear voice that signals control.
Know that communication is at the core of success.
Laser focus on a technical task is no longer going to get the new manager positive results. From now on, briefing, delegating, disciplining, collaboration, motivation – they’re going to be crucial. And communication is how they happen. That’s why the first priority of many individuals (and their organizations) is a communication skills workshop or other development strategy.
Everyone needs a sounding board and a guide. A mentor can provide immediate support and advice. And who knows? The relationship could provide the kind of bond that spans an entire career.
Provide development support.
New managers are often highly educated technicians and intelligent achievers who may be more accustomed to being "ahead of the curve". Setbacks and mistakes can make them doubt their own abilities. This is important to remember if you are a new manager's supervisor or a human resources professional working with them as they develop into their new managerial role. Workshops or private coaching, like those offered by VoicePro, can jumpstart success in a new role.
Image by Stryler