• Colin Mobey

Let's start with some questions

Let’s start by asking ourselves some hard questions.

Or shall we challenge ourselves?

Maybe we should have ourselves a little interrogation. You sit one side, I’ll sit the other and we’ll thrash this out until we’ve got the answer I really want.

Yes, today’s word is QUESTION.

(I’m really trying to not make that sound like I’m on kids TV wearing a garish shirt and smiling inanely at you as I say it, but I feel I’ve only been partially successful…)

QUESTION. It’s a good word. Everyone should ask QUESTIONs. Leaders especially. I’m certainly not going to argue with Albert Einstein who said

the important thing is not to stop questioning.

Huge fan of his hair. And the physics stuff.

The right QUESTION, at the right time, asked in the right way is enlightening, inspiring and downright helpful.

But you’ve got to get all three of those things right.

Many years ago I sat in many a meeting with one particular chap I’ll call Zeke. He was classic middle management. Liked and respected. Good at his job. Loved meetings. I think he liked restoring old cars (that’s not important to the story, but it’s my story).

Zeke would always listen attentively to any presentations or proposals or updates, then would start off with ‘is it okay if I ask some questions on that?’ 

It was his way of showing he was listening and had something to offer (I know, I asked him). He didn’t just want to reflect back what he’d heard; Zeke wanted to check he’d not misunderstood, and maybe reveal something that could add value if the questions made people think from a different perspective.

A worthy intent.

Trouble was, that’s not what the word QUESTION means. 

So his intent was lost.

You could tell other people round the table didn’t ‘take it as he meant it’ either. Body language shifted. Jaws clenched. Backs straightened. Fidgeting started. 

They weren’t being QUESTIONed. They were being challenged.

They didn’t hear the word ‘question’. Despite the fact that what Zeke usually said was insightful and often did help them. It was the way he said it (usually within a second of them finishing speaking), in a room full of people (usually more senior than the speaker - hierarchical structures have a lot to answer for).

If we look at related words to QUESTION and consider them on a scale of intent it’s clear that Zeke said one thing, but it was taken to mean something else. Something in the wrong direction of the slider…

Zeke should have gone the other way.

Zeke wanted to EXAMINE the proposals. He wanted to inspect what had been said. He was always thorough, which was a good thing, and he wanted to make sure he’d understood it. Might even have revealed the situation or condition wasn’t truly as expected.

Textbook EXAMINE.

I suspect if he’d said something along the lines of ‘is it okay if we EXAMINE what you’ve said in more detail?’ the body language of others in the room wouldn’t have altered. They would have more readily been open to a discussion.

If Zeke had gone one further and said ‘I’m CURIOUS about what I’ve heard, is it okay if we talk about it some more?’ I know he’d have got an even better response. One ready to share knowledge and insight.

There’s absolutely a time and place to use the word question. I regularly tell my teenage kids I have questions. 

One on one, where the intent is clear, where the rapport is strong and the expectation is a back and forth of questions and thoughtful responses. A reasonable time and place to say you want to question something.

But I’d argue that more often than not, as leaders (and yes, as a parent…), as creators of environments people want to work and live in, we could use a more powerful word. One that carries with it the intent we truly mean.

One that encourages participation in the journey, not just the end destination.

I’d even argue in a one on one conversation either use of EXAMINE or CURIOUS will build a stronger rapport than question.

Zeke is still liked. Still thought of highly. Still is in his middle ‘management’ position. But I’m CURIOUS as to what he could achieved if he EXAMINED his word choices a little more.

I’m CURIOUS about your thoughts, so let me know what you think in the comments.

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©2019 by Colin Mobey