Asking questions is a basic leadership requirement. Whether you are leading, managing, job interviewing, negotiation, selling, influencing or just engaging, your question asking is more important than your question answering. Here are some ways you can benefit from asking the right questions:Find out what the other people care about, value, like, and dislikeDistinguish yourself from the know-it-allsFlatter others, and maintain their self-esteemShow interest in others rather than coming across as just trying to get what you wantGet a more honest assessment of the situationAvoid jumping to conclusions and making false assumptionsHelp guide people to arrive at the answer you wantBuy yourself timeHandle surprise and attack by asking for clarification instead of jumping into a defensive modePersuade betterReinforce, clarify, or correct what you think you knowTest and verify what they know
With all the communication tools available to us, there is still massive mutual mystification when it comes to clearly understanding each other. Many factors contribute to that, not the least being the languages people speak in our diverse workforce. A US Census report on findings from 2009-2013 found that sixty million Americans speak languages other than English at home; they speak some 300-plus different languages. For example, in: -New York = 192 different languages -San Francisco = 163 different languages -Dallas = 156 different languages So in addition to the more common German, French, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese, you have: Havasupi, Swahili, Onondaga, Bengali, Picuris, Hindi, Tungus, Hawaiian, Bengali, Pima, Amharic, Serbian, Tamil, Indonesian, Malayalan, Kiowa, Pidgin, Croatian, French Creole, Samoan and Mandarin — as a small sample. Even if you speak English you have to work at being understood, as writer David Burge, puts it, “Yes. English can be weird. It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.”
With the myriad audio, video, and digital communication platforms we have today to immediately disseminate more information than ever in history, it’s kind of interesting to look back on how man achieved the same desire to share information…. During an excavation of a medieval road near the Kremlin in Moscow, Russian archaeologists recently unearthed a birchbark letter dating to the fourteenth century. They believe it was written by a servant to his master to describe unforeseen travel expenses on a debt collection journey. For many years I’ve collected religious artifacts. One of my most treasured items is the teachings of the Bible written in Sanskrit on banana tree leaves bound together by a cord so they can fan out and be read as a learning tool. Before the birchbark or banana leaves, the Incas in Peru encoded and recorded information with cryptic knotted strings known as khipu. Dr. Gary Urton, of Harvard, writes, “The knots appeared to be arranged in coded sequences analogous to the process of writing binary number (1/0) coded programing for computers.” And before that, there were petroglyphs etched into cave walls. Petroglyphs, then knotted strings, then birchbark and parchment were “technological” advancements in communication for their times. What will be interesting to see are the technological advances still waiting for us. An email in the future might seem as old fashioned as the birchbark.
Recently I polled a number of people and asked, “What’s irritating about video conferencing?” They told me it's irritating when people:Don’t acknowledge others on the other side of the monitorConstantly look bored or continuously check their cell phonesDon’t speak upUse a cell phone for the call, which is usually a poorer connectionJoin in lateDon’t set up pre-call arrangements, and end up having to spend call time dealing with equipment or call setup issuesInvite too many people to get on the videoHave poor backlighting and contrastTalk louder than necessaryAre not aware of their body languageDon’t smileHave a background that is too busy or distractingOn the other end start multi-taskingTalk over othersDon’t mute their phone when appropriateMove excessively in and out of viewMake statements like, “I know you probably can’t see this…” and then explain a graph or picture without giving details along with the point, i.e. “As you see here, the numbers are…” Summarize instead, i.e., “This graph shows a 30% growth rate.”Don’t pay attention, fidget with laptop and cell phonesOnly speak to folks in the room, not the people on the other side of the monitor, tooTalk all over each other because of time delayAre obviously having private side conversationsDon’t look at the camera; act stiffly around itShuffle papers noisilyDo not pay attention to personal appearanceDon’t operate the data systems correctlyEat or drink while on the callUse excessive hand gesturing
So now that you are reminded, it helps your communication if you refrain from doing those things.
When I start a speech, generally after every other speaker has used a number of slides, I explain to the audience, "You'll find that I don't use PowerPoint. There is a reason for that. I believe you have to be your own PowerPoint in life. You can't walk around with a group of slides over your shoulder explaining what you want people to remember. You have to live, breathe, show, and emote the effect you want to have on people." That's taking nothing away from those who effectively use the technology. I just chose another approach in presentations so that I:
1) differentiate myself from others 2) rely on my physicality, choice of words, and mindset to communicate 3) practice what I preach (i.e. professional presence and executive effectiveness)
Next time you present, try it without any props except your own preparation and brilliance. You might find out that you explain yourself better than any technology can add to your speech.
Standing outside a seaside restaurant in Malaga, Spain was an older woman dressed head to toe in a perfectly tailored aqua colored pantsuit apparently waiting for someone to join her. Sunglasses on her head and (likely) an Hermes scarf draped across one shoulder. To this awkward-feeling college girl on Spring break, she looked the epitome of grace, confidence, and comfortableness with her happy facial expression, erect posture, and poised demeanor. After patiently waiting, an equally dapper young man joined her (I’m assuming her son) and gentlemanly escorted her to their table. She listened to him earnestly, touched his arm occasionally, spoke with enthusiasm, and laughed easily. I thought to myself, "that's what I want to be like when I get older." Today, I am that older woman. Sometimes young women in my audience come up after a speech and say, "I hope I look like you when I'm your age." It makes me feel good. And then I feel regret that I did not compliment that woman I saw in Malaga those many years ago. I was seated right beside her; I could have leaned over and said, "You're a striking woman. You're what I want to look like when I get older." Today if I see someone who makes me want to compliment him or her, I do it immediately and clearly because I don't want to miss the chance to make someone feel good. It takes such little effort to maintain someone's self esteem, and the payoff is so great for both of you.
Whether writing an email, a proposal, an article, or a book, my writing mentors have taught me a simple 3-step test to ask myself. It’s a must after each completed piece, but equally important after each paragraph, even each sentence:
1. What am I trying to say?
2. Have I said it?
3. Is it clear to someone reading it for the first time?
Following that simple test, I’ve found that my writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things I keep out that shouldn’t be there. I’ve added one more question to the test: