Shut up and Listen!

Sorry if that sounds rude but one of the mistakes we sometimes make when going into a conversation is to think we should have all the answers – slick, smart, clever answers.

Because, as a leader or manager that’s what you’re paid to do, right?

Wrong.

The best managers I know have mastered the art of asking great questions (and listening REALLY well) in order to get to the best answers.

And let me be clear. This is NOT a set of questions that you can learn by rote and pull out randomly. Oh no.

Now, there are some great questions that can serve many purposes because it’s always good to have a starting point. But we can do so much more than that if we want to get to mastery.

My wonderful coach mentor recently described a really great question as ‘one you would only ever use once’.

Because it only means something to that particular person. You’re using their words as part of your question.

That is really powerful.

It means really listening to the other person’s words rather than paraphrasing, interpreting, assuming, ‘leading’ or avoiding – because we are then seeing the world from what Chris Argyris describes as our ‘ladder of inference’; our own reality, our own map of the world.

I remember my early coach-training days – struggling to think of my next question and missing swathes of information, nuances, patterns in the conversation. Because I was so focused on my own performance at the expense of really listening. And I know today that when I have a busy mind, or I’m not fully focused, or I’m rushing, trying too hard, anxious, tired…. I’m probably not asking the right questions.

That old cliché about having two ears and one mouth is so true!

How to get better? Practice (like most things). Even a gap of five seconds before responding can make a huge difference – you can then reply thoughtfully because you’ve taken time to hear and digest what the other person has said.