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My definition for asking right question contains the idea of “deep coaching”, a technique which uses my logic, my brain and … my heart as well.
A few years ago, I was offered an interim HR leadership position in my company. This challenge was a great development opportunity and I jumped into action immediately. At the beginning, I connected with key stakeholders to get to know them, their business and strategy, and their view on the situation. What was the business strategy and its execution? How has HR supported the business so far? Was HR established as a business partner? How was morale and engagement of HR team. Many, many questions to ask; and a lot of time dedicated to listening, to understand.
After several weeks the understanding of the situation crystallised and I was able to define three key challenges we had to face as a team. The first one was to set up HR function as a business partner. Secondly, we need to build an engaged HR team. And finally, HR succession plan was empty and we had to recruit a successor for a HR lead position. Let me leave first two tasks for later and let me focus today on the third one, which, by the way, was the most fascinating to me.
During my discussions with HR team members we touched many areas like HR team set up, HR agenda and priorities, feedback from employees and leaders, HR engagement and their individual career aspirations. Soon I understood that within the HR team there was an HR individual who had been with the company for many years, knew the business in and out and what was interesting, wanted to become a HR lead. Hold on… if this was what this person wanted why was I asked to do the interim role and not him/her? Interesting… it was clear to me that I had to ask more questions to fully understand what had happened in the past. Finally, after a few weeks, all the pieces of the puzzles came together. Based on earlier discussions with this individual wrong assumption and perceptions about career plans and expectations of this individual were created by HR leaders. That misunderstanding led to wrong development decisions which created frustrations of this individuals. Frustrations were received as confirmation of wrong assumption. Vicious circle created more confusion and frustrations on both sides. After some time, when I was sure that I understood the situation fully and there was a trustful relation between the individual and me, I started asking the RIGHT questions. The first reaction of the individual to my questions was careful and with reserve. When it was clear that my key objective was to challenge and help, the individual started a new development journey.
Why is asking the right questions so difficult? There are many reasons, so let me share with you only a few. One is that: we need to listen to reply! Many people don’t listen with the intent of understanding problems. We are ignorant and arrogant as we think we know the answers to all questions. In some situations, the problem may be that we are not brave enough, as we think about potential consequences of asking right questions. Asking right questions may be sometimes uncomfortable, pushing us for a change of action. Another reason could be that there are some people who ask smart or good questions just for the sake of impressing others; they are absolutely not interested in solving an issue. In many cases culture plays a key role – we need to be polite and it is not appropriate to ask such a question. It may be perceived rude if you are direct.
Below there are some tips which will help you to develop your ability and skills to ask right questions.
EMPATHY and TRUST
First, focus on building a trustful relationship and share your positive intentions. Through your words and actions show that you are there to help. Be empathic and have a soft approach to the person. Be available at all times in the case of questions or any help needed. Helping means to be open and honest all the time.
Second, focus on understanding what the problem is. If you define an issue accurately, you will be able to ask the right questions; and asking the right questions will lead you to a right solution. Use your intellect to understand the challenge. Once you connect with an individual you need to ask why the person struggles to find a solution. What has been done so far? What worked and what did not? Asking the right question is half of solving the problem.
Be prepared to ask tough, uncomfortable and provocative questions; questions will push a person to think, to reflect and, finally, to act, change or improve. Look for game changing moments. Create a situation where you shape, shake or even shock somebody. Do not be afraid of pushing some limits by asking the right questions.
Asking the right questions is an art. If you need a bit of inspiration or direction start observing kids. They ask so many right questions every day. No thinking, no control, not being afraid of answers, no politics, no rules … just trying to find answers to their questions. Kids practise deep coaching every day, unconsciously. Be like them!
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