Communication is without a doubt one of the most important aspects of leadership – if not the most important. Savvy leaders who understand the necessity of communication are always looking for tips on how to be better presenters or how to improve the way they convey information. However, they don’t always seek guidance on enhancing their listening skills, which is one the most crucial elements of effective communication.
One method I’ve found that helps leaders focus more on listening is to flip the script for a moment and turn their attention to empathy. When leaders consider the other person and are able to put themselves in their shoes, their ability to engage in active listening improves dramatically.
By using tools like the Emergenetics® Profile, leaders can learn more about the Thinking and Behavioral preferences of their team members and begin to focus on empathy by building an understanding of how their employees may experience work or react to a situation. And one of the best ways to expand on these types of insights and empathize with another person is to ask good questions.
Are You Communicating on Autopilot?
One of the challenges I encounter most often when working with leaders is a tendency to become robotic while engaged in communication. Words are spoken and exchanged, and information is simply passed from one party to another. No real connection has been made.
When leaders become conversational automatons, they deny themselves the chance to learn what their people really think and how they truly feel. Asking questions and soliciting feedback from your people is critically important. However, when you overlook putting a human touch into the conversation, it creates distance where there should be a connection. This impersonal nature of communication may create barriers between leaders and their people, making it unlikely that employees will speak up, share ideas and express themselves with courageous vulnerability.
So, before you attempt to improve the quality of the questions you ask your employees, I think it’s important to first work on your ability to be present, open and human in your interactions. I encourage you to let your guard down and connect on a person-to-person level. Then, when you ask questions, you can be sure you’re getting authentic responses and feedback.
Five Ways to Improve Your Ability to Ask Questions
If you are willing to have real, vulnerable conversations with your people, you will notice that they will be much more willing to share honest feedback with you. The key is to retain your empathy while still inhabiting your role as a leader within your organization. It can be a challenging balance.
To help you get into the conversational groove, here are five tips to ensure you are asking the right questions of your people.
#1 – Ask What People Need (And If You Can, Give it to Them)
Most people want to excel in their respective roles, and they want their leaders to support them in doing so. One of the best ways to ensure this type of engagement is to ask your people what they need to do their jobs. Do they have the right tools? Are they getting the proper support from management? What environmental or cultural factors may be standing in the way?
Asking these sorts of questions shows your people that you are there for them and are invested in their success. Just make sure that when you ask people about what they need, you are willing to make the effort to deliver what they have outlined, or that you provide valid explanations for why you cannot and work together to brainstorm alternatives.
#2 – Always Seek Clarity
Employees perform more productively and enthusiastically when they are confident in their roles. And sometimes leaders and their people have different ideas about what those responsibilities should be. As you engage with your people, be sure to ask them about how they view their roles within the organization. What do they find meaningful about their work? How does the work fit within their larger worldview? The answers you hear may reveal where your people are in tune with your organization’s values or where work needs to be done in terms of how people approach their jobs. Don’t work off of assumptions; be sure to ask people for clarity.
#3 – Follow Up
When a member of your team speaks up with an issue in a meeting or otherwise expresses concern, it’s important to address them directly, in the moment. It is even more important to follow up with them after the fact. Do they feel that their concern was addressed appropriately? Do they feel like they were heard? Remember that it takes real vulnerability to speak up, so thank your people for expressing themselves and honor those expressions by following up with good questions.
#4 – Winning Isn’t the Only Thing…
…And it’s a lot of fun to talk about! One of the most effective ways to encourage employees to open up is to ask them about their wins. What are they feeling proud of lately? What challenges did they overcome? What skills did they improve? What problems did they solve? Ask your people about their successes and you’re sure to hear some inspiring responses that can engage your employees.
#5 – Lighten the Load
The best leaders have a knack for releasing the pressure of work when it threatens to harm productivity or engagement. Sometimes the best questions to ask are those that have nothing to do with work or the organization’s mission. This advice goes back to my original comments– remember to be human as you interact with your employees! Ask them about life outside the office. Inquire about family life, hobbies or any shared interests you have.
Sometimes the daily grind of work can lead us to lose perspective on the reasons why we get up and do it every day. Ultimately, going to work is about fulfilling deeper goals. Demonstrate that you understand your people as human beings first. Have fun. Show curiosity. Lighten their load by shifting the perspective, if only for a moment. Doing so can drive engagement considerably!
Asking the right questions – in the right way – is a great way for leaders to learn more about their people, enhance engagement and build high-quality organizational culture. Flip the conversational switch from a more traditional information exchange model and open up by asking the appropriate questions of your people.
Do you have questions about what it takes to improve the flow of communication within your organization? Do you wonder what you can do to improve your ability to engage your people? What other questions would you recommend that leaders ask their employees?
I’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.