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Brandin Wilkinson

Brandin Wilkinson General Manager

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Power Questions for Effective Communication

Ineffective communication is consistently one of the top concerns of businesses.  Most of us know this on a surface level but I believe that because it’s a difficult measurement, we don’t take it as seriously as we need to be. Think about it; there’s a lack of direction, teamwork suffers, wrongful assumptions happen, conflicts arise, and chaos typically ensues.

 

Effective communication is the foundation in every area of our organization.  It’s the ability to deliver, receive and understand what the message is that’s being communicated. This requires developing the skill of being focused, asking high-quality questions, active listening and understanding how to use tonality and body language to support the words we are saying. It also requires the ability to be open-minded enough to receive the information in the message that’s being delivered which we’ll get into shortly.

 

In a coaching and mentor relationship, which we are constantly in, open and effective communication is an absolute must.  One of the key lessons I learned through Performance Coaching is the power of active listening.

 

What is active listening? 

It’s the ability to focus completely on what the other person is saying and is also not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of their desires, and to support them. It’s about removing judgement, ego, and genuinely caring about what is being said from the person(s). 

 

There are 8 Key areas of active listening;

  1. 1. Attend to the other person(s) agenda and not your own
  2. 2. Hear the concerns, goals, values, and beliefs about what is and isn’t possible
  3. 3. Distinguish between the words, tonality, and body language
  4. 4. Summarize, paraphrase, reiterate and mirror back what is being said to ensure clarity and understanding. This is also a phenomenal negotiating skill
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  6. 5. Encourages, accepts, explores, and reinforces the other person(s) expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, suggestions, etc.
  7. 6. Integrates and builds on the other person(s) ideas and suggestions
  8. 7. Understands the essence of the other person(s) communication and helps them get there rather than engaging in long, descriptive stories
  9. 8. Allows the other person(s) to clear the situation without judgment or attachment in order to move on to the next steps

 

Here are multiple ways to NOT listen effectively;

  • - Interrupting or speaking as soon as they finish a sentence
  • - Speaking before they can finish the last few words of a sentence
  • - Attending superficially; missing signals in client’s tone or body language
  • - Breaking eye contact or doodling during a face-to-face session
  • Multitasking
  • - Place your personal values, beliefs or perceptions on your clients instead of listening to theirs
  • - Only listen for pain points and problems
  • - Bringing your own personal feelings from a separate event into this current one

 

There are 3 different levels to active listening starting with the least effective to the most effective... 

 

Level 1 is Internal Listening which means that our focus is on ourselves, our own thoughts, feelings, conclusions, and beliefs.

 

Level 2 is Focused Listening where all of the focus is on the client and everything that is creating their experience. Everything that is sent your way is perfectly reflected back to them.  Listen as if there is a wired connection between you and them. Use empathy, clarification and collaboration.

 

Level 3 is Global Listening where all of our focus is on the experience our team member is having with everything including your response, their feelings, and everything in between. We listen to everything that we’re receiving (like a radio antenna). We are connected to our intuition and receiving information that is not always observable. 

 

The more we can develop our active listening skills, the better leaders we will become. One of the best ways to draw out high-quality answers from our team is by asking them high-quality questions. This will save quite a bit of time in our conversations because we'll be able to get to the core of the message the other person(s) is presenting.

 

Asking High-Quality Questions

For clarity purposes, there aren’t a secret set of core questions that I’ve come across which will work magic for us.  In my opinion, good quality questions derive from being genuinely curious in what the other person is saying.  The more engaged we are in the conversation and the better we leverage active listening, that’s when the high-quality questions will arise. 

 

Having said that, it does help immensely to go into conversations with confidence in knowing that high-quality questions will come to mind. In order to do that requires preparation.  As we know, preparation breeds confidence. 

 

The best leaders that I’ve met and studied, have the ability to ask high-quality questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the relationship between the team member and the leader.

 

Michael Bungay Stanier wrote a book called “The Coaching Habit” which was specifically written to have quick and powerful coaching sessions with our team members through asking 7 high-quality questions;

 

1. What's on your mind?

2. And what else?

3. What's the real challenge here for you?

4. What do you want?

5. How can I help?

6. If you're saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?

7. What was most useful for you?

 

These questions were intentionally designed to cut to the core of what’s going on in about 10 minutes.  Knowing how much we all value time, these are a great set of questions to get familiar with. 

 

A great resource to pull even more high-quality questions from is “Coaching Questions” by Tony Stoltzfus.  Let’s take a look at what some of those questions look like in different situations and let you discover which ones feel right to you so that you can create your own set of core questions.  

 

Motivation...

It’s important to link pain to the past or if they remain where they currently are and pleasure with who it is that they’re striving to become.  Future pacing is a powerful strategy to take when developing intrinsic motivation especially. 

 

- What are the top 3 challenges you face right now?

- What about your top opportunities?

- What is the biggest improvement you’d like to make in your life right now? What would it be worth to you to make that happen?

- What’s motivating you right now - either dissatisfaction with what is or a desire to pursue something in your future?

- What are you passionate about pursuing (achievement), what makes you feel fulfilled in life (purpose), what would you say are your top 3 core values and on a scale of 1 - 10 how aligned are you with them?

 

Future Pacing...

“Imagine moving out into your future ‘as if’ you were about to handle this situation at your most resourceful self.  How does this change things?”

 

“Imagine moving out through the rest of today, tomorrow, and the weeks, months and years into the future having access to these resources… will this make a difference?

 

“When would you like to be able to handle this situation in the future?  Imagine you are there now, but this time you have access to these new ways of thinking and feeling…  How is it now? Where else in your life will this make a difference?

 

Conversation Starters with Management...

  • - What was the best thing that happened this month in your department?
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  • - What’s the best thing about working here?
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  • - What’s the greatest asset of your team? Your biggest challenge?
  • - What’s one thing you need to move your team to the next level that you don’t currently have? How can I help you with this?

 

Obstacles...

  • - What do you believe is stopping you from reaching that objective?
  • - What do you need that you don’t currently have to reach this milestone?
  • - What resources could you tap into to overcome this obstacle? Or is there a way for you to become more resourceful if you don’t have the resources?
  • - How have you overcome obstacles like this in similar situations in the past?

 

Transformational...

  • - When we face great adversity, we are either broken by it, survive it, or it becomes a defining moment. What response would make this a defining moment for you?
  • - What could improve about you that would improve your situation?
  • - Let’s assume that this situation is custom designed for your inner growth as a leader and a person.  If that’s true, what’s the opportunity here?
  • - What fears, doubts or other internal obstacles are keeping you from moving forward? What would it take for those obstacles to be completely gone?
  • - If you were the best you can be, operating at your fullest unrealized ability - then what would be possible? 

 

Accepting what you can’t change...

  • - What would need to change in your attitude or response for you to function at your best in the midst of this, even if the circumstances don’t change?
  • - If this circumstance is hard to get rid of or is beyond your control, how can you choose to experience it differently?
  • - If you can’t change this, how can you make your peace with it?
  • - How could this moment become a defining moment for you, where you rise up and engage it out of what you were made to be?

 

Having a “Go-To” question or set of questions is key to developing your confidence in presenting certain questions in specific situations.  One of my favourites is...

 

On a scale of one to ten…

  • 1. On a scale of 1 - 10 where is your stress level right now?
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  • 2. On a scale of 1 - 10 how proud are you of your effort? 
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  • 3. On a scale of 1 - 10 where is your energy level?

 

If it’s anything less than a 10, ask them what must happen to make it a 10.  This is a great way to finish a meeting off when you’re striving to implement real action and accountability between today’s meeting and the next one.

 

You got this!

Brandin

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