The Surprising Power of Questions, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, is great but not surprising. It’s well accepted that asking questions “spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.”
So, if asking questions is so important and productive why aren’t people more inquisitive? Why don’t more leaders create a culture of questions?
The HBR authors share some answers including egocentricity, apathy, overconfidence and not understanding the value of good questions. But the most important reason, from my internal and external consulting experiences, is fear: Fear of the answer; fear of being wrong; fear of looking foolish; fear of having wasted time and money, fear of having to spend time and money, and fear of losing power.
It’s not only learning to embrace the question that’s important, it’s learning to embrace the answer.
Yes, we need the courage to ask, to have the inquisitiveness to learn more, and to take the initiative to interact with our stakeholders. But we need the courage and ability to put the organizational needs above our own; we need to identify the anxieties and work our way through with an “eye on the prize.” Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Fear has come into play when I’ve been asked to help fix a problem concerning corporate or brand reputation. The expectation is the delivery of a new public relations program, story placements, or an advertising campaign. It’s the “stuff” of communications and marketing that is wanted. Unfortunately, there is often less of an interest in first determining the issues – asking and answering the questions – underpinning the problem. Leaders must not be intimidated by what research might uncover.
Future leaders must also learn to question; it’s an essential element in a mentoring relationship. Good mentors know this, even in legend. When the future King Arthur asked, “Would you mind if I asked you a question?” Merlyn answered, “It is what I am for.”
In the workplace, we need to open to Q&A from those above, below and beside us. But seeking questions and answers is also of personal importance. There’s no way to fix or foster a relationship unless one is open to an exchange, and hearing and acting on the information.
I’ll end it here with some questions: Was this helpful? How do we move this forward? How have you found success in this arena? What other articles, resources on this subject have you found valuable? When have you encouraged others to seek questions and answers? I welcome your answers.
Between posts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.