Challenging most, if not all of us, is an internal battle over how we often assume on others their motive or reasons rather than ask directly. I suspect we tend to default to assumptions more commonly, which raises the question of why. What in us compels us to focus on imaginings rather than offered truth from the source? Our reasons are likely varied and usually justified in our minds. As leaders, however, I believe this key internal battle needs addressing towards a different approach for the sake of those we lead. Assuming leads to mistrust from others, while asking questions honors and elevates their perspective as valuable in the matter.
So, what goes into a good and healthy “ask”? First, our intention to listen towards understanding is a must. Going through the motions to feign value for their explanation creates greater mistrust when it becomes obvious their input didn’t matter in our subsequent actions. If you find yourself not really interested in understanding, take some time to step back and reflect as to why. Only move forward with questioning when you can honestly work from that motivation.
Second, the specific kind of “ask” you offer is important. Clear, direct and honoring questions have a way of bringing what is valued to the forefront for both you who are asking and those who are responding. In most circumstances, an “ask” that is more open-ended gives greater opportunity for the responder to give their own thoughts without any type of “answer-prompting”. At a core relational level, asking for one’s perspective to help you understand them reflects your respect for them. Doing so consistently serves as connection points of trust-building that supports deepening relationship through time and circumstances. Impactful leaders understand this truth and make it a priority in their leadership culture.
The following are a few examples of “asks” (i.e. open-ended questions) that can help bring understanding…
- “Can you help me understand your reaction just now to what I said?”
- “What are your thoughts on the directions/choices I just presented?”
- “Would you elaborate more about __________?”
- “What am I missing in your explanation?”
- “How do you see us moving forward?”
- “How does the process work now?”
- “What kind of challenges are you facing in this circumstance?”
- “What is your most important priority to you with this and why?
- “You used the term(s) ________________. Can you explain what that means to you?”
- “You said you are frustrated – can you share with me what has caused this?”
As you relate to others, think about the times you assume on other’s motives or actions. Purpose to instead use the power of the “Ask”. Doing so builds meaningful relationships of trust and honor with those you serve and further esteems the value of authentic honesty.