by Sandra Ford Walston
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
This time-worn saying is false. For example, “a stone is thrown” when someone says, “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done!” With the phrase “I don’t care,” the receiver, a co-worker, employee, colleague, is thwarted into a world of negativity that affects productivity and collaboration.
We all want to feel appreciated and valued for our contribution.
Would any of the following apply to you or a manager you know? You’re too intimidated to have that overdue conversation so you utilize a form of ambiguity? You’re a manager whose style of managing is hands-off. This way you don’t have to suggest ideas that might offend, be misunderstood or be accountable.
Whether you’re a manager, human resource director or CEO, you are often required to engage in the awkward, elusive or tight rope conversations that require an element of courage. These types of “challenging” conversations test us in an uncomfortable way. Why? Because the exchange is more than just applying candor (a cousin to courage) or being brutally blunt .
If you can communicate more effectively with coworkers, you can reshape your work environment and produce the sustainable results you’re seeking. Muster the courage to try these nine simple courageous conversation questions and see if they recalibrate your approach to leadership:
1. “How do you imagine this project progressing?” This question not only engages but also decreases stress because the word “imagine” generates creativity and curiosity. People are more motivated to speak up and share their ideas, a known productivity booster.
2. “Is there anything else I can offer you?” and “Do you have any other requests?” Requests and offers allow people to open up and reveal the “chatter” in their head (and share what they really want). This provides transparency and removes any awkwardness, especially for those reluctant to speak up.
3. “What was your assessment about the big project we just finished for that client?” Be cautious with your tone. This means you take responsibility for how your language affects others. Your words are a part of your daily legacy—people remember them more than the action. Will you be remembered the way you want to be remembered?
4. “How do you envision accomplishing the task/results?” This question keeps passion alive and perpetuates retentive innovation.
5. Be direct and say, “I have expectations that you will do x,y,z.” Or, conversely, “What expectations do you have of me?” This avoids the outcome of unclear expectations: wasted time that can’t be reclaimed from false assumptions and unnecessary tension in the workplace.
6. The founder of my Newfield Network coaching organization always opened our international conferences or local gatherings with “What’s cooking?” This question kicks off an understanding that it’s safe to share. This creates a “mood” for receptivity. How do you kick off a meeting?
7. “What do you see our next step to be?” Using the word “our” in your question leads the client/customer to think of you as a partner when making a decision.
8. “In retrospect, were there any red flags during our project/interaction that we were blind to?” First red flag warnings are everywhere. If you don’t stop and acknowledge the first one, you’ve probably slid blindly into denial. Denial is saying “no” to courage. Stop and reflect, when asked this critical question.
9. “What single task was your most significant contribution in completing this project?” This reveals the individual’s passion and what gives him/her self-fulfillment.
Comedian Lily Tomlin said, “If you can’t be direct, why be?” Think about what type of language you experience in your work environment and what you display. The words we choose can submerge us into negativity or elevate us to a different level of courage consciousness—and take our coworkers with us. That is the power of courageous questions!
She is the internationally published author of bestsellerCOURAGE The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman (2001), the follow-up book STUCK 12 Steps Up the LeadershipLadder (2010) and the recently released FACE IT! 12 Obstacles that Hold You Back on the Job (2011). She is certified in the Enneagram and MBTI®. Watch YouTube:FACE IT! | Twitter | Facebook
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