What happens when you manage people by asking questions? If you’re a boss, then asking questions of the people you’re in charge of has definite advantages over telling them what to do all the time. However, I’m not referring to asking leading questions, to which you already know the answers.
In order to manage people well by asking questions, they should be genuine, based on curiosity and without an agenda. Effective leaders master the art of “humble inquiry,” says Edgar H. Schein, PhD, an MIT Sloan School of Management professor emeritus and consultant.
In his book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013), Dr. Schein describes inquiry as “the art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”
Unfortunately, asking questions runs counter to traditional business cultures that value achievement and performance over building relationships. Nonetheless, soliciting others’ input is a fundamental aspect of human relations for leaders who want to foster solid relationships, trust, communication and high performance.
In my work as a coach, I find that many conversations at work lack inquisitiveness, as we’re reluctant to concede that we don’t know everything. Many organizations expect their leaders to be all-knowing, wise, set direction and intuitively know how to inspire people.
In truth, leaders are the ones who should be inquiring and listening to others’ responses. Employees cannot excel at complex interdependent tasks until their leaders build positive, trusting relationships and facilitate safe, upward communication.
That doesn’t happen unless managers are willing to open up dialogue by asking genuine questions. When the boss asks a subordinate for ideas, opinions and perspectives, he/she is communicating respect, care, and trust. In turn, that person is more likely to be engaged in bringing their best work.