Are you asking the right open questions?

I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last couple of days with Russ Baleson who has delivered training to our management team around more effective communication.

The content was ground breaking for me for a number of reasons. It changed my perspective on some things I always thought to be right, and it’s prompting me to reconsider just how effective my communication style has been.

Open and Closed questions were always an area I thought I knew well. Open questions lead to elaborate answers, closed questions will generally get a one word response. Simple, Right?

What do you do when your Open question gets a closed response?

That’s always puzzled me, and leading an IT team, I sometimes find it challenging to get my team members to open up – I thought I could write that off to the nature of Software Developers particularly, you can think of many preconceptions here that can be used to explain the traits and behaviours, but it’s dawned on me, it’s self-inflicted. I was wrong in my approach.

Take a typical question you might ask a Software Developer:

Q: What went well with this project?
A: We delivered it on time.

To my software developer, someone with a personality profile that is very analytical, logical and to the point, this is a perfectly proper answer, but it leaves me craving just that bit more. How did you deliver it on time? Did you pull together? Did you think you were you well supported? Just talk to me!

Let’s try this again.

Q: Tell me some of the things you think went well with this project?
A: Well, we hit the deadline, which I suppose is the most important thing, we also worked very well together as a team, it was also really good to get the support of the department manager and that certainly paid off as we knew exactly how we’d approach it.

Suddenly, we’ve hit gold – here’s a real insight into the project and the mindset. A simple change with dramatic results.

What’s the secret?

The key here is in the delivery, the wording is important as you need to make sure your intentions are clear too – I want you to talk, not just a bit, but lots. Just wording your question differently can make all the difference.

What did you do at the weekend?
Tell me some of the things you did at the weekend?

What can we do better?
Talk to me about some of the ways we can do better?

Russ has published a book on Communication Skills which I’ll certainly be purchasing very soon.


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