Monday, December 7, 2009

Ask, don't tell

Questions get people thinking. To make a difference, ask the questions that others are not asking.

Leaders tend to do a lot of “telling”. To get things done, they often default to telling people what to do, and how to do it, and what is going to happen, instead of asking them what they have noticed, what they have been thinking about, and what they have learned from recent experiences.

Doing things differently requires curiosity, and this involves “asking”.

Instead of telling people what to do, ask them what they think. Leaders need to provide a catalyst for thinking. Set a new and unexpected topic for discussion. Be creative with your questions. Ask the sort of questions that other firms are probably not asking.

Experiment with creative thinking techniques – there are many books available on this subject.

During discussion, ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard, and that people don’t take entrenched positions. Allow time for discussion, and also allow time for ideas to incubate. This may mean coming back to the question at a later time. Ideas don’t always appear on demand. They occur unexpectedly, because the subconscious continues to work on the question. If you limit your discussion to a single session you might miss the best ideas. Revisit the question to find out what other answers people have thought of.

Just as the body keeps burning energy after an exercise session, the mind keeps on working after you have finished discussing a question.

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