Leaders who show genuine interest in their team members will ask questions. Questions are the gateway to knowledge. We not only learn from the content presented to us, but we also learn when we become curious and ask questions not directly answered in the content.
Asking great questions is not a science but an art. It involves excellent listening skills and the use of intuition. The ability to ask great questions should not be taken lightly. These questions require thought. John Maxwell agrees, “There is something about a well-worded question that penetrates the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.” To make a genuine connection, penetrate the mind and heart. Questions have that ability when asked insincerity, avoid judgment, and arise out of healthy curiosity. The key to asking great questions is to be fully present in the conversation, actively listening to the other person.
Here are some suggestions that yield effectiveness:
Flow in the conversation. Flowing in the exchange takes dedicated practice. With so many internal and external distractions, it can be challenging to let go of the reins and yield to the ripples of the conversation—to be carried away by the ebb and flow of the waves.
Flowing in the conversation necessitates that we set aside everything at that moment and bring our total selves to the discussion. It’s maintaining a consistent and persistent presence during the encounter. It implies a continuous motion. The conversation is smooth and unregimented. Picture water flowing from a faucet; the water flows freely without impediments.
I have a water fountain in my office with three tiers. Each tier dispels fresh water, enabling the whole fountain to function smoothly. Any interruption to one level would disrupt every dependent level, and the water would soon cease flowing. A flowing conversation is a beautiful back-and-forth serving, as in a tennis match where both participants have equal value. We can do this in a conversation when we intentionally move the focus from ourselves to the other person. It’s unnatural for most people. It is a learned behavior—how to serve in conversation and relationships.
Listen with enthusiasm. Listening to others is vital to making connections with everyone in every place. What does it mean to listen with enthusiasm? It means to be attentive with your whole self and to be excited to hear. We live in a distracted age. With so many technological advancements and digital gadgets, listening to others in a plain, face-to-face conversation is hard. How often have you been talking with someone, and every few minutes, either their notifications or your notifications are sounding? I’m sure it’s happened more times than you care to count. Our natural impulse is to address the text, email message, and social media post, but every time our eyes transition from the person we are talking to, we lose our earnest effort to listen.
Listening is active work. Listening with enthusiasm involves another level of activity. Enthusiasm is taking a lively interest in what the contributor is saying. It is choosing to abandon indifference and embrace the conversation with zeal and exuberance. And with the excitement in listening, it is essential to carefully insert questions that encourage the other person to continue talking. Appropriately pacing questions gives the person space to think. A barrage of questions without sufficient time to process may lead to frustration. We are building valuable connections rather than gathering information.
Notice what is said and not said. There is meaning in what a person isn’t saying. People generally leave out much of the story for a variety of reasons. As good listeners, we will learn to pick up on the nuances of what is said and the deletions (what is not said) in the conversation. The idea is to notice the whole person on a deeper level rather than focusing on the topical and sometimes superficial information presented. Does this mean you will be correct in your assessments every time? Of course not. However, noticing subtle hints and recognizing omissions adds value because the person knows you were keenly listening and genuinely interested in them beyond mere words. It demonstrates your understanding on a deeper level.
Noticing what is said and not said is a skill that takes time to develop and only develops with consistent practice. We are born with a selfish tendency—a natural bent toward ourselves. Just observe a toddler or think back to your teenage years. We wanted pretty much everything to be about us. As we grow and mature, we will find that life is much more enjoyable when we make it about others. Life is more fulfilling when we learn about others—what makes them believe what they believe, how they see and experience the world around them, and what they value in life.
We learn these things as we become more intentional and purposeful in conversing with others. In doing so, we add tremendous value without hijacking the conversation. We add more value to others listening rather than talking. It is a delicate balance between the two skills.
Do you need support growing in leadership? Developing the characteristics of a good leader? Book a strategy call with me at tabithaperson.com.