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Posts Tagged ‘asking questions’

Business Communication Skills – Influence by Asking Questions

When selling a product, service, or idea, people often think that providing more information is better. The more data points, the more likely the other person is to be persuaded. This is not necessarily the case. Excluding data hounds, most people don’t like to be overloaded with information. But people do appreciate the opportunity to talk about what they want and need. So if you want to sell something, give people a chance to talk.

I’ll never forget one of my first sales calls, early in my career. I was selling Dale Carnegie Training. After calling a prospect for six months, he agreed to spend ten minutes with me. Feeling rushed, I laid out all of our training brochures and quickly told him about every program we offered. Then I asked if he wanted to buy anything. He didn’t.

If I had asked a few questions and listened to his answers, I could have provided information on just the training programs he needed, instead of giving him a list of likely irrelevant options.

Selling a product or service is no different from selling an idea. You are trying to persuade someone to your way of thinking. Resist the temptation to persuade solely by educating. Instead, ask questions, listen to the answers, and then tell the person what you heard her say. If you’ve taken a listening class, you learned the practice of paraphrasing what someone said. Paraphrasing is a very old, very effective practice.

People need to feel heard and understood. From my experience, asking relevant questions, demonstrating that you listened to the answers by paraphrasing what the person said, and providing pertinent and succinct information is what people need to make a decision.


Ask Questions Before You Give Feedback & Strengthen Your Business Relationships

When you feel you’ve been wronged, it’s natural to lay into the offending person, give negative feedback, and tell him exactly what you think. The problem with doing this is that as soon as a person feels accused, he becomes defensive. And when people are put on the defensive and feel threatened, they stop listening. And you’ve potentially damaged your workplace relationship.

When someone does something for the first time that violates your expectations, use the lowest level of intervention necessary. Allow the person to save face, and ask for what you want, without giving an abundance of negative feedback and pointing out all the things he’s done wrong.

Likewise, when you cut your finger while cooking, you put a Band-Aid on your finger. You don’t cut off the finger. This is true with business communication too.

When you’re facilitating a meeting, you can ask the two people who are side talking to stop, or you can go third grade on them and ask, “Is there something you want to share with the rest of us?” Both methods will stop the behavior. But one embarrasses the side talkers a lot, the other only a little.

Likewise, when one of your coworkers takes credit for your work, you can give feedback and say, “I noticed you told Mike that you worked on that project, when we both know that you didn’t. Why did you do that?” Or you can skip the accusation and ask a question instead, saying, “I noticed you told Mike you worked on that project. Can I ask why you did that?” From there you can have a discussion, give feedback if you need to, and negotiate.

When your boss doesn’t make time to meet with you, rather than saying, “You don’t make time for me. That makes it hard for me to do my job and makes me feel unimportant.” Instead consider saying, “I know how busy you are. Your input is really important in helping me move forward with projects. How can we find 30 minutes a week to connect so I can get your input and stay on track?”

In each of the situations above, you’d be justified in calling the person out and giving negative feedback. And it might feel good in the moment. But being right doesn’t get you closer to what you want, and it can damage your workplace relationships.

Practice good business communication –say as little as you have to, to get what you want. If this method doesn’t work, then escalate, communicate more directly, and give feedback. The point is to get what you want, not to make the other person look bad. The better the ‘offender’ feels after the conversation, the more likely you are to get what you want in the future.


Candid Culture Turns 10 – Give and Receive Feedback

giving feedback

Ten years ago today I left my corporate job and launched Candid Culture, business communication training. I’ll admit to being terrified and being pretty convinced I would fail. I thought about starting the business for 12 years, but was paralyzed by fear.  The only thing that finally motivated me to act, was that at the time, I worked for someone who didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t want the internal opportunity he was giving me. Don’t give a woman who can barely use Excel, leadership over the Finance department.

The training and keynote speaking I do have evolved over the past ten years, as organizations’ needs have changed. A few things have remained constant.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past ten years:

  1. People struggle more than I ever realized when receiving negative feedback. People care about the work they do, want to do a good job, and want to be thought well of. Negative feedback calls all of that into question.

Most people question themselves when receiving negative feedback, and that’s a very painful process.

What do to:  Give very small amounts of feedback at a time. Share one or two things the person can work on. More negative information sends our brains to a dark place, where we feel we can’t be successful, and performance actually drops.

Provide feedback on the positive changes or lack thereof, that you see. Don’t let people work in a vacuum.  After you’ve seen some improvement, give one or two additional pieces of feedback.

  1. Most of us get almost no feedback at work – positive or negative. “Good job” doesn’t qualify as feedback. But that’s almost all the ‘feedback’ most people get.
  1. Even if you ask for feedback, you probably won’t get much, because the other person is concerned about your potential negative reaction.
  1. Managers are afraid employees will quit if they give negative feedback or report them to HR or the Union.
  1. People really want to know how they’re doing – good and bad – even if they don’t want to hear the message.
  1. Giving negative feedback requires courage and a trusting relationship, in which the feedback recipient trusts that the person’s motives are pure.

So what to do with all of this information?  Be courageous and clear. Remember that the purpose of feedback is to be helpful. Care enough to be uncomfortable. Specific is helpful.  Giving feedback will always be challenging. If you want to give less feedback, get better at making specific requests. You get what you ask for.

giving feedback


Setting Expectations is Easier Than You Think

Think about all the people and situations that frustrate you. Now consider what you’re asking for. My hunch is, you’re getting what you ask for.setting expectations with employees

While most of us aren’t great at telling people when they violate our expectations, we’re not any better at asking for what we want. You might be afraid of appearing demanding or may not feel you have the right to make requests. When you tell people what you expect, you make their lives easier. Think about when someone invites you to their house for dinner. If you have any manners (and I’m sure you do), you ask what you can bring. When the other person says nothing, it makes your job (to be a good guest) harder. Now you have to guess what the other person wants. It would be so much easier if he would just tell you. This also applies to birthday gifts and where to meet for lunch. When people tell you what they want as a gift and where they want to eat, you don’t have to guess and they are easier to please.

It’s much easier to live and work with people when we know what they expect from us. And setting expectations is always easier than giving negative feedback. Negative feedback implies someone did something wrong. And no one likes to be told he is wrong. Setting expectations provides a road map to success, making it easier to win with you.

Here are a few phrases to make setting expectations easier:

Setting expectations example one: Consider saying, “I need time to get settled when I come in in the morning. Will you hold all questions and requests until 10:00 am?” You’re not telling someone she barrages you with questions before you’ve even gotten to your desk in the morning; you’re simply asking for what you need.

Setting expectations example two: You could say, “I like to have things done well before they are due. Will you send me all input for the weekly status report by Wednesday of each week so I have a few days to review your input before I have to submit it?” You’re not telling the person that working with him requires a weekly fire drill; you’re simply making a non-judgmental request.

Setting expectations example three: You could ask, “Would it be possible to touch base once a week via phone during your morning commute so I can get your input on projects?” You’re not telling the person she is impossible to get time with; you’re simply proposing an idea.

One of the keys to getting what you want is make requests in a neutral, non-judgmental way. The more you ask for and the more specific your requests, the easier you are to work with. What you need and want will be clear; there will be no guessing. People may choose to ignore your requests and violate your expectations, and then you’ll provide feedback. But start with making clear and specific requests, and see how many fewer feedback conversations you need to have.

setting expectations with employees


Setting Expectations Is Easier Than You Think

setting expectations with employees

Think about all the people and situations that frustrate you. Now consider what you’re asking for. My hunch is, you’re getting what you ask for.

While most of us aren’t great at telling people when they violate our expectations, we’re not any better at asking for what we want. You might be afraid of appearing demanding or may not feel you have the right to make requests. When you tell people what you expect, you make their lives easier. Think about when someone invites you to their house for dinner. If you have any manners (and I’m sure you do), you ask what you can bring. When the other person says nothing, it makes your job (to be a good guest) harder. Now you have to guess what the other person wants. It would be so much easier if he would just tell you. This also applies to birthday gifts and where to meet for lunch. When people tell you what they want as a gift and where they want to eat, you don’t have to guess and they are easier to please.

It’s much easier to live and work with people when we know what they expect from us. And setting expectations is always easier than giving negative feedback. Negative feedback implies someone did something wrong. And no one likes to be told he is wrong. Setting expectations provides a road map to success, making it easier to win with you.

Here are a few phrases to make setting expectations easier:

Setting expectations example one: Consider saying, “I need time to get settled when I come in in the morning. Will you hold all questions and requests until 10:00 am?” You’re not telling someone she barrages you with questions before you’ve even gotten to your desk in the morning; you’re simply asking for what you need.

Setting expectations example two: You could say, “I like to have things done well before they are due. Will you send me all input for the weekly status report by Wednesday of each week so I have a few days to review your input before I have to submit it?” You’re not telling the person that working with him requires a weekly fire drill; you’re simply making a non-judgmental request.

Setting expectations example three: You could ask, “Would it be possible to touch base once a week via phone during your morning commute so I can get your input on projects?” You’re not telling the person she is impossible to get time with; you’re simply proposing an idea.

One of the keys to getting what you want is make requests in a neutral, non-judgmental way. The more you ask for and the more specific your requests, the easier you are to work with. What you need and want will be clear; there will be no guessing. People may choose to ignore your requests and violate your expectations, and then you’ll provide feedback. But start with making clear and specific requests, and see how many fewer feedback conversations you need to have.

setting expectations with employees


Want Innovation in the Workplace? Hire Employees Who Ask Questions.

innovation in the workplace

People like certainty. We feel more comfortable knowing than not knowing. Not having an answer is uncomfortable. And looking for answers requires work. But sometimes knowledge is the enemy and the death to innovation in the workplace. If we know how something or someone is, there isn’t much of a reason to look for different and possibly better answers. But sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.

Companies want to be innovative, creative and agile. And that’s good. A lack of innovation is surely the route to long-term failure. For example, a company is at the top of its game. It sells a product that is better than everyone else’s and becomes complacent. Relying on its past success, the successful company creates nothing new for five years, while up-and-comers are creating better solutions. Before they know it, the successful company is obsolete.

On a smaller scale, but equally damaging to innovation in the workplace, is hiring and retaining employees who don’t regularly ask the questions:

  • Why do we do this this way?
  • Is there a better way to do this?
  • What don’t we know that we don’t know?

If you want innovation in the workplace, you need to hire people who are curious and think critically.

People who are curious and think critically have a few key qualities. Curious and critical thinkers are:

  • Secure
  • Self-confident
  • Coachable
  • Not afraid to ask questions
  • Not afraid to be wrong

Identifying these qualities in candidates is challenging. I’ve interviewed and hired many people who seemed quite self-confident and coachable during the interview process, but once they began working, it quickly became apparent that they were neither. If you want people who will execute an existing process that works, non-critical thinkers are effective employees. If you want people who will consistently challenge the status quo, you should let insecure and people lacking curiosity go, as soon as you see the signs.

If you want innovation in the workplace and want your organization to stay current and competitive you need to have employees who aren’t afraid to consistently ask the question “why. Incorporate status-quo busting questions into your meetings. Create rewards and recognize people who risk trying to fix a problem or create something new.

Train employees to ask these questions:

  • Why do we do things this way?
  • Why did this happen?
  • What questions have we not asked?
  • What would happen if we did _______?

As always, you get what you ask for. What are you asking for?

innovation in the workplace


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