Do your days feel like one meeting after another … and another? And have you noticed how often people get bogged down in the same issues you talked about the last time you got together? And asked yourself “why are we going over the same ground again and again?”
Staying on track and positive
Somewhere between the positive intentions people start with and consensus on the best path forward, it’s easy to be sucked into an unproductive swamp that drains energy and time.
It’s probably true that ‘he who asks the questions controls the conversation.’ Though it seems equally true that ‘if people get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about their answers.’
Keeping your feet dry
Asking the wrong questions can lead everyone into a quagmire of justification and finger pointing. We’ve all been there. So how can you keep meetings positive and focused on the outcome?
When you hear yourself asking a ‘why question’ like …
“Why did you do it this way?”
“Why didn’t they ask for help?”
“Why can’t marketing follow instructions?”
“Why don’t you _____?”
While those questions may explain how you got where you are, they also cause people to dig in and defend their positions, rather than finding a path forward.
Replace ‘why’ with ‘how’ or ‘what’ questions.
“How did you decide that?”
“How is that working for you?”
“What led you to that conclusion?”
You can soften any question by inserting “I’m curious,” “I’m wondering” or “Do you mind if I ask” as in “Do you mind if I ask how you decided to …?”
Answering a question with a question
What if you’re the target of a ‘why’ question?
Neutralize or redirect ‘why’ questions with a question of your own.
“How does answering that move us forward?” or
“Is this where we want to put our energy and attention?”
Searching for common ground
The more you challenge the validity of someones position, the more they will defend it. So use your questions as a ladder to something you can both agree on. Work on details only after you have identified a higher purpose, or a shared value.
First, acknowledge the other person’s position by pacing. Repeat back their words, beliefs and emotions.
“I sense you feel very strongly about ____________.”
“You believe that ___________.”
“So it’s important for you that we ________”
Then shift the focus from the specifics of a situation to a bigger picture of what they want to achieve. The value or purpose behind their position will generally be a more inclusive outcome.
“How is that important for you?”
“What is important for you about that?”
“What will this do for you?”
“What is your intention?”
“How does that move us towards our outcome to ____?”
When you’re in a swamp stop digging
If you find yourself sinking, you can cut your losses with questions like these.
“What do we have to do to make things more the way we want them to be?”
“Is there anything we can do about _____ right now?”
“If so, what is the first step we will take?”
“If not, how can we accept/make peace with what we cannot change?”
“If we have to go through this anyway, what can we learn/get out of it?”
“What are we willing to stop doing/give up in order to get ____ more the way we want it?”
Remember the power of expectations
If people think a solution is unreachable, their efforts will reflect it!
Create positive expectations using ‘so far’ and ‘yet.’
As in ‘we haven’t figured it out yet’ or ‘so far we haven’t found the solution.’
Heads up – memory is imperfect
People do forget, delete or distort information. And sometimes the players change. So it’s a good idea to keep a record of commitments to close the gap. Use a flip chart and record rshared information and commitments.
“We can _____ if you _____ by this date.”
Keep the chart visible and current with the dates commitments were actually met and use when players change and/or delete or distort the facts.