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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4 Reasons Asking Questions Is Better Than A Dictatorship: Pt 2 — Create Alignment

This is part 2 of a 4 part series on “4 Reasons Asking Questions Is Better 
Than A Dictatorship.”

 

I used to think that my talent for quick decision making is what made me a great leader. It may make for a great, quick decision, but it doesn’t create a unified team.

 

Creating alignment with your team is how you take any committee, group, or mix of people and turn them into an unstoppable, unified force.

 

How, then, do you get there? Well, first you have to understand the decision making process.

It Can take Up to 15 Steps to Make a Decision or Solve a Puzzle

The way that our brains are wired, it can take up to 15 or more steps to come to a logical solution or to comprehend a new complex concept. In other words, it takes time for each of us to reach a conclusion to a problem or puzzle. That’s 100% normal.
Some of us who are able to skip steps here and there. After years of talking to clients, I’ve discovered that skipping steps to reach a solution is common place for me. Often the solution seems very clear and obvious to me and feel it should be easy for others to see as well. That’s usually not the case.  Others my need more context, logic, or basic history. Providing that information is critical to leadership.
Many of us reach a conclusion or solution in our own way. When we are required to complete a task without full context we aren’t as invested in implementing it. Think about it. If the issue is weight loss and I tell you to watch what you eat and exercise, you’re not going to like me very much. You may also ignore my solutions. On the other hand, if you create your own plan you are usually 100% dedicated and absolutely nothing will be able to stop you!

Great Team Leaders Guide Others Through the Steps to the Answers

Given this fact, when a team or committee is tasked with solving an issue, each member has to have time to go through their steps to reach a conclusion. In order to effectively lead, I’ve had to transition from presenting the solution to providing more context so my team can reach a solution themselves. It requires a lot of patience, well-timed questions, and gentle nudges and it is possible!
Now that the entire team has an answer, it’s time to turn them into an unstoppable force.

Understanding and Agreeing: The Four Magic Questions

For a team of five people, you may have anywhere between 1 and 5 solutions to your problem. By utilizing the Understand and Agree method (I usually call it U&A), we’re able to whittle that down to a single, unified strategy.
And the four questions in the U&A are these:
  •    What do you understand?
  •    What do you not understand?
  •    What do you agree with?
  •    What do you disagree with?
By using those four magic questions and the 15 step process together, we reach a consensus. And, because everyone’s worked through the entire process together, we’re each committed and fully invested in both the solution and in our team.

 

As the team lead, then, it’s not my job to dictate or present the solution. It’s my job to effectively communicate with my team and my clients. Once I do that, everything else will fall into place.
 

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4 Reasons Asking Questions Is Better Than A Dictatorship: Pt. 1 — Strengthen Businesses and Relationships

This is a 4 part series on 4 Reasons Asking Questions Is Better Than A Dictatorship.  Each will be discussed at length over the next few months.

One day, a client asked me for professional assistance. I knew that it was going to take a good 2-3 hours and a web meeting to address the issue, so I asked one of my employees to take the lead and follow up.

A week later, as I was reconciling timesheets, I was shocked by what I saw. My employee had driven 90 miles one way to be on site with the client – and then spent 2 days there!

I was torn. You see, I’m a huge believer in thoroughly consulting and assisting my clients. On the other hand, this was an issue that should have been resolved in only 2-3 hours.

Asking Questions Helps You Learn

I’ve learned through reading, mentoring, and life experiences that asking questions is vital. I recently read Marilee Adams’ game-changing book, “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life,” and there are four reasons why asking questions is the route to go.

The first reason is that asking questions helps you learn. The other three reasons are fantastic and will have to be addressed another day.

To Learn and Ask Questions, You Must be Open to New Information

It’s impossible to ask a question when all you want to do is
lecture or dictate. So not only is the question important, its phrasing is also
key.

You see, in this situation, my initial reaction was to absolutely ream this individual. I wanted to ask this question: “How am I going to justify a 2 day travel expense to this client, when 2-3 hours was enough?!?”

While that is a question, it would have immediately set my employee on the defensive. I would have learned very little, if anything. And both my employee and I would have left that meeting angry.

Instead, I took a moment. And then I asked, “Hey, can you help me understand something better? I must not have understood the client’s request, because I thought a couple hour meeting was going to be enough. It took a couple of days, so what did I not undrstand?”
By framing the question this way, I was opening myself up to new information and validating my employee.

Listening is How You Strengthen Businesses and Relationships

Taking those few extra seconds to compose myself and think about rewording the question made all the difference. You see, it turns out that when my employee called this client, they’d asked him to come on site. Their problem was significantly more involved than a 2-3 hour conference call originally described to me. Those 2 days of onsite assistance was, in fact, the right call.

By entering “learner mode” and asking sincere, emotionally neutral questions, I opened myself up to understanding and communicating. Yes, it can be tough to swallow your pride and shelf your initial, emotionally-charged reaction. But those kinds of reactions hurt and destroy relationships.

Asking questions, withholding judgment, and listening, on the other hand, builds relationships – and by extension, your business.

 
It would be fantastic if it were human nature to interact like this – but it’s a learned habit and culture. As we’ve transitioned our company culture in this direction, it’s made amazing and positive changes within our company and with our clients. It’s been like a software upgrade – RSC 1.0 was running the business on my whim, RSC 2.0 incorporated learner mode, asking questions and gaining consensus as a team, and we’re excited to be releasing RSC 3.0 which will be rallying around a common cause – and to keep moving forward.

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Thoughts? Questions? Comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear your insights.