Bob Stephen’s Top 10 Business Books: #2 “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life”

I reference Marilee Adams’ book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life all the time. It has helped me immensely in my communication in the business world, because I have been able to strengthen my relationships with people.

It’s written in a narrative format, following the story of a man who has been having challenges at work and, because of that, decides that he wants to resign. He is counseled to talk to someone about his challenges before stepping away from the job. His journey and solutions are insightful, as he discovers that there are two different approaches to every situation: judging and learning.

Judger

We as humans beings naturally see things from our perspective. We want to judge situations and events according to how they line up to the world we’ve built for ourselves. Applying a single-viewed approach to any situation can lead to judging it incorrectly and reaching false conclusions, instead of asking questions to better understand why people act the way they do, why a problem was handled a certain way, or why the desired results are not being realized.

How I’ve Applied This Approach

One of my responsibilities outside of work includes participating in a board of members that handles travel and finances for a local organization. The communication style is such that members are constantly pointing their fingers at each other and trying to find  fault with one another for any problems that arise. I eventually decided to resign because the amount of exercise and energy it took for me to stay on the choice chart was overwhelming, and for my own personal growth, I chose to resign because I did not want to fall into the Judger Pit.

Learner

When we discount our tendency to jump to conclusions, and decide instead to ask questions that will help us better understand, some difficult and stressful situations will become experiences that allow us to level with people and strengthen relationships.

How I’ve Applied This Approach

A few years ago, a client of mine needed some help with the application my business provides. I chose a bright, quick employee, that I trusted would get the job done, to call the client and figure out what needed to be done. A few weeks later, my CFO came to me and said that this employee had used company time and money to fly to the client, book a hotel room, and pay for meals. I was confused and felt betrayed, because to my knowledge, the task would only have taken a phone call and a couple of hours.

I decided to apply the asking questions approach, instead of my usual approach that would lead to anger. I called the employee and asked what I hadn’t explained well about the assignment. The employee then recounted to me that he had called the client and realized that the task was not one, but multiple tasks, and that the client had authorized to pay for everything.

I am so glad that I asked instead of just getting angry. I understood the situation much better now, and I could see the logic behind the employees’ choices.

“Switching Lane”: Moving from Judger to Learner

Beginning to process an event as a judger does not mean that you will be limited to viewing things from a single perspective. The “Choice Map” allows us to see that there are different paths we all choose to take when tackling difficult situations. We can choose half-way through an event to see things as a learner.

How I’ve Applied This Approach

I have had many experiences when I think I am explaining something very well, and notice negative reactions, or at least reactions that are contrary to what I expected. I take those opportunities to switch from a judger to a learner and ask questions that will help everyone to feel closer and strengthened. I try to apply this in our Tech and Staff Meetings. I oftentimes will have to ask for clarification and/or other questions so I can understand better and help my staff become more unified.

Learning This Approach Is a Process

We all naturally want to approach events and situations from a judger perspective. Honing the skills necessary to become a learner instead of a judger is a lifelong process. Consistently choosing to change your approach to situations will help with this process, but it is choice.


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