When you use “And what else?” you’ll get more options and often better options. Better options lead to better decisions. Better decisions lead to greater success.
There’s a place for giving advice, of course. This book isn’t suggesting that you never give anyone an answer ever again. But it’s an overused and often ineffective response.
Which is why people in organizations like yours around the world are working very hard and coming up with decent solutions to problems that just don’t matter, and why the real challenges often go unaddressed.
The simple act of adding “for you” to the end of as many questions as possible is an everyday technique for making conversations more development- than performance-oriented.
Stick to questions starting with “What” and avoid questions starting with “Why.”
We often don’t know what we actually want. Even if there’s a first, fast answer, the question “But what do you really want?” will typically stop people in their tracks.
I was not a successful law student. I remember almost nothing from my classes, and I ended my studies by being sued by one of my lecturers for defamation. It’s a long story.
“Are you more important or less important than I am?” is the question the brain is asking, and if you’ve diminished my status, the situation feels less secure.
T is for tribe. The brain is asking, “Are you with me, or are you against me?”
E is for expectation. The brain is figuring out, “Do I know the future or don’t I?”
A is for autonomy.
If you believe you do have a choice, then this environment is more likely to be a place of reward and therefore engagement.
A way to soften this question, as with all questions, is to use the phrase “Out of curiosity.”
Other phrases that can have a similar softening effect on the question being asked are “Just so I know…” or “To help me understand better…” or even “To make sure that I’m clear…”
You’re giving the solution, you’re providing the answer, you’re adding something to your to-do list. You’re assuming you know what the request is, even though the request hasn’t been clearly made. In short, you’re taking responsibility.
The more direct version of “How can I help?” is “What do you want from me?”
the wheel is spinning but the hamster is dead.
In fact, “strategic” has become an overused qualifier, something we add to anything that we want to sound more important, more useful, more thoughtful, more… good.
Why are you asking me?
Whom else have you asked?
When you say this is urgent, what do you mean?
According to what standard does this need to be completed? By when?
If I couldn’t do all of this, but could do just a part, what part would you have me do?
What do you want me to take off my plate so I can do this?
What is our winning aspiration?
Where will we play?
How will we win?
What capabilities must be in place?
What management systems are required?
You want them to learn so that they become more competent, more self-sufficient and more successful.
Academic Chris Argyris coined the term for this “double-loop learning” more than forty years ago.
But “What was most useful for you?” is like a superfood—kale perhaps—compared with the mere iceberg-lettuce goodness of the other questions.
“Is my manager useful?” the question asks. And thinking back over the last year, he’s struck by the fact that every single conversation with you has proven to be useful.
Answering that question extracts what was useful, shares the wisdom and embeds the learning. If you want to enrich the conversation even further—and build a stronger relationship, too—tell people what you found to be most useful about the exchange.