I was in a discussion about a mechanical issue with a group of individuals a while back. We were heavy into gears, numbers and points of leverage when a younger fella joined the conversation. He was a nice enough guy but came across a little desperate. At a point in our calculations the young guy proceeded to insert his opinion on the issue. The difficulty was he was missing a whole range of information. Then, once started he somehow found it necessary to continue without check. The group let him speak for several minutes until finally one participant visually asked him to hold his tongue. In just two clarifying statements the young guys opinion was exposed as on a “significantly distanced planet”. His embarrassment could easily have been saved had he simply asked a couple questions rather than presenting his opinion as a conclusion. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion but certainly not all opinions are informed or valued.
Most everyone has a boss. If the boss values peoples opinions (like good ones should) our participation is not only valued but necessary for positive growth. However, before providing our opinions we must make sure they are informed. How do we know its informed unless we gather pertinent information?
One of the safest way to save face and even foster participation is converting an opinion into a question. It’s like playing Jeopardy, all “answers” must be submitted as questions. This practice is disarming and is interpreted as respectful and humble. For some it may come across as indecisive but the time for being decisive is at the conclusion of a matter, not the beginning. Building a strong team mentality requires a continual flow of mutual respect, juggling questions rather than opinions, concluding statements, or “answers” will nearly always foster cooperation.
Moving our communication from opinions to questions requires practice, deliberate mental intent and effort in the conversation. It’s absolutely amazing the effect it has on those around us but its not always easy to swiftly convert.
The questioning technique can be used in more settings than just with your superiors. My most productive communication sessions with my wife were based more on gathering information than providing “solutions”. Conversely my most unproductive events hardly had any questions at all, while my “solutions” rarely (if ever) benefited anyone… especially my wife. Solutions are cold, questions and clarifications are warm.
If you find yourself in a cold environment then maybe try asking some questions, try to engage with people rather than coldly clearing that file off your desk. Participation is contagious and brings more value through appreciation and enthusiasm than a simple solution can.
I would recommend that if you try this approach, don’t tell anyone your doing something new. First, people may take that announcement as some sort of cold solution and secondly, its a habit that needs to be practiced. Nobody remembers to do it every time. Building a strong habit first can save a lot of face.
I have also seen leaders in meetings require everyone to only communicate in questions. While it may be an interesting exercise, the pressure of converting facts into questions may distract the focus of any meeting. Some times it works and sometimes it will not.
The purpose of the exercise is to foster a humble participation environment. If you can achieve it without “Jeopardy” your skills will already be evident.