Think about the last time someone asked you good questions about your life to get to know you better. Chances are, this person left a positive impression in your mind.
Now, consider an opposite experience.
My husband, children and I were seated at a table with another family attending a mutual friend's wedding. We didn't know these people, and instead of spending an entire meal in silence, or chatting amongst ourselves, we engaged the couple across from us in conversation. An hour later, we knew all about them--where they lived, what they did for a living, what their kids were into, and even where they last went on vacation. Our big takeaway? These were not people we would want to be friends with or know in the slightest, for one reason: In all that time, not once did they ask us even a simple question.
Self-promotion is ugly.
Rebecca Teasdale, leadership development expert and cofounder of the coaching firm Trispective Group and co-author of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations, shares a similar cautionary tale.
She and a colleague attended a dinner event with a group of leaders from a client company and were seated with a new member of an executive team. When the meal was through, they had learned a lot about him--his years working abroad, his days as a partner at an IT consulting firm, and his time on Wall Street. But in the 45 minutes they spent with this man, he never asked a tablemate any question.
Self-absorption is reaching alarming levels.
The common courtesies of asking questions and listening have given way to a narcissistic need to speak and be heard. Teasdale points to a recent Harvard study which underscores the scale of the problem: People spend most of their time during conversations talking about their own viewpoints and tend to self-promote when meeting people for the first time. In contrast, high question-askers--those that probe for information from others--are perceived as more responsive and are better liked.
Supercharge your charm by asking good questions.
In her work as an executive coach, Teasdale tries to talk no more than 30 percent of the time, and mostly in asking questions. She says it's a habit that:
- Improves engagement by showing a person values the views of others
- Improves the quality of decisions by helping leaders understand multiple perspectives on an issue
- Improves collaboration and buy-in by inviting dissenting views that may otherwise go unheard
- Increases influence by involving others in decisions and direction setting
- Develops stronger workplace relationships
The most effective leaders don't do all the talking.
As a consultant, Teasdale often is hired to help leaders figure out how to develop better relationships, increase employee engagement and create a culture of learning and innovation.
Here's her advice:
- In your meetings, observe what's going on. How much are people talking and positioning versus asking, listening and learning? What is your own tendency?
- Try not to talk first. Force yourself to let others go first. Don't jump in too quickly to fill the silence.
- Make a habit of asking questions that increase learning like, "Tell me more about your recommendation. What am I missing? What are we not thinking of? What are some other ways we can approach this challenge? What's our real purpose in this?"
- Go deep by asking follow-up questions. Model showing curiosity about others' views.
"The sooner the toughest issues get raised, the sooner they get fixed," she says. "Yet many leaders I observe put more energy into telling and convincing than into listening and learning."