7 Tips for New Managers on Asking Better Questions

| By Terence Brake

By some estimates miscommunication can cost an organization 25-40% of its annual budget, and 14 percent of each work week is wasted as a result of poor communication. 

According to a multi-year Gartner Group study, 80% of IT projects are late, over-budget, short of expectations, or simply undelivered as a result of poor communication at the outset. Conversations are a large part of those communications.

In terms of leadership and management development, we must place a high priority on conversational competence. In getting things done through other people we need to spend considerable amounts of time talking. There is more than one way to converse with others, but many professionals get stuck in their talk-habits. Business professionals need to have conversational options that they can apply depending on the context and the objective.

Conversation can be placed along a spectrum from One-Way Telling (Closed) to Two-Way Exploring (Open). Along this spectrum are various options, the usefulness of which will depend on the situation and the need. Conversational options at the closed-end tend to be transactional (information exchange) while those at the open-end have the potential for being transformational (shifts in mindsets, mental models and underlying assumptions)

Exploring is a learning conversation (also referred to as dialogue) and tends to be underused. Its primary aim is the creative uncovering and examination of deeply held assumptions, values, beliefs, and mental models that shape the way we see and act in the world. Once uncovered and understood, breakthrough thinking becomes possible.

What are some of the behaviors managers and employees should adopt to promote greater use of the learning conversation?

  1. Ask open-ended questions to understand more accurately
  2. Be patient and not be in a rush to evaluate
  3. Explore and try to build upon other people’s ideas rather than dismiss them
  4. Identify and examine all assumptions, including one’s own
  5. Listen for meaning not just the words spoken
  6. Listen objectively rather than starting out with ‘I have the right answer’ mentality
  7. Stay focused on the goal of mutual understanding and learning together

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