Orchestrating Success

Orchestrating Success

OS 034: Leadership Skills: Validating, Asking the Right Questions

January 07, 2017

Validation Is Asking the Right Questions

We conduct surveys with the wrong questions and are not looking for data. We are mostly looking for a validation of our idea, position, or plan.

I meet many leaders in the concept stage for a proposed enterprise. Whether it's a business or a tax-exempt organization, there are similar comments: "People really like my plan!" I ask if those who like the plan made a commitment to support it. Silence is the typical response.

We ask if they like the idea (certainly, everybody will like the idea) without asking if they would make a purchase and recommend it to others. Or, in the case of a nonprofit, if they will donate or sponsor it.

In the case of a mature enterprise, there's a different, however, similar situation. The leader is not vulnerable enough to ask the hard questions and then listen to be able to receive information that will improve the entity, the performance of the culture, or their own performance. We, as leaders, typically are not willing to open up and receive information that will fill in the gaps in our perspective in order to be a better leader. It's time to change that.

I'm not always the best at doing this, however, I continue to work on my own personal gaps.

Here are my principles for questioning:

  1. Ask contrasting questions: If the questions are all just with prejudice in supporting your bias, then what's the use? Ask one question that is directed to your position, framing the question as such. Next, reverse the paradigm or ask if the person has a different point of view to share. Ask why.

  2. Ask open-ended questions: We often ask yes or no questions or multiple choice questions. Those types of questions are not as helpful as open-ended and neutral questions, such as, "Tell me about..." or "Comment on..."

  3. Listen carefully with intention for words and inflections: The choice of words and the emphasis and inflection can impact the meaning of the response. If there's an inconsistency in words and emotion, then ask for clarification.

  4. Listen and observe: Look for and make eye contact. Focus on the person and don't take notes until they have completed their statement. Observation will reveal as much or more that just the words.

  5. Leave a minimum of 4-seconds of silence after the other person has finished speaking: After observing and listening with intention, take a moment to make notes. This validates that the person has been heard. Silence is clarifying for the listener, as well.

  6. Do not defend your position: Just listen with intention and give yourself time for reflection. Being defensive might shut down a communication channel that's helpful. Listen, give time for reflection, ask for a future time to respond. If you are also asking these questions of others, it might be helpful to get other perspectives to get the full picture.

Making good decisions depends on complete data.