How many questions do you ask in a day?
Questions are the foundation of conversation. Most of us ask them without even thinking about it; they are a fundamental part of human connection. Without them, there is monologue, an endless stream of thoughts. Or, alternatively, there is silence.
In John Green’s novel Paper Towns, the main character Quentin says:
“The thing about Margo Roth Spiegelman is that really all I could ever do was let her talk, and then when she stopped talking encourage her to go on, due to the facts that 1. I was incontestably in love with her, and 2. She was absolutely unprecedented in every way, and 3. She never really asked me any question so the only way to avoid silence was to keep her talking.”
Questions are essential, not only in our personal relationships but also in the work environment. As a sales leader, asking questions is a fundamental part of solution selling, or understanding the customer’s needs before promoting a specific product. As a people manager, asking questions engages a team, helps to increase creativity and innovation, and helps to ensure there are no misunderstandings. Questions help leaders deal with ambiguity and work toward clarity. They help individuals thrive in times of change. When we engage with customers, questions help to ensure what we are offering, building or creating meets an existing need.
What is interesting, however, is that despite all of these relatively obvious benefits, leaders today are not really encouraged to question. At a certain point in our careers, we are rewarded for having solutions and sharing those solutions through “vision” and “strategy.” Leaders are expected to be experts. Questions, which have so much value, can be seen as a sign of weakness. And, as a result of this, we forget the art of questioning.
In today’s social climate, where dialogue and conversation are vital and expected, this needs to change. Questions can help us solve problems, think through issues, and get to solutions. And maybe most importantly, they are what make us social. We need leaders who start every engagement with a question, who are willing to ask why. And who see that asking these questions will help move the organization forward.
Therefore, my question for you today is this:
What is your highest priority and what question can you ask others to move this priority forward?