QUESTIONING – a tool, weapon or dead end?

QUESTIONING – a tool, weapon or dead end?

The act of questioning is a consistent in the business world. In its best form It is the singular tool that all in the food chain of commerce use to learn, evaluate and make decisions. It is the key ingredient to sound management and staff development. Questioning should provide a platform for fact gathering, uncovering reasoned opinions and determining the knowledge/skill of your associates/team.

Questioning can also can create dysfunction and a toxic culture. Questions in the wrong forum and with a misplaced purpose hurts current company performance and weakens future potential for success at the individual and corporate level.

Upon reflection I confess I have been in every space outlined in my role as executive, husband, father and community leader. In my career/life I have used questioning in positive and less effective ways. Now in my coaching/consulting practice I see the power of powerful questions. It is an important portal that opens to self-awareness, inventory assessment, planning and future execution.

Effective questioning skills are recognized as one of the key skills of those executives with strong emotional intelligence. However, I have found the act of questioning can take on many forms – some helpful and some debilitating.

The two dimensions of Questioning:

Toxic Questioning

  • Questioning to defer/avoid a decision – This can be created by a lack of confidence in the process, doubt about their own skill, lack of ownership or concern about the outcome and how it will affect their status. The executive is looking to off load the decision to someone else.
  • Questioning to embarrass – The most toxic of actions as it creates terrible team and individual dynamics.
  • Questioning to control – hold power – Another mechanism that stifles progress and hurts teamwork and broad strategic thinking.
  • Questioning to feed the ego – Both yours and at times others (bootlicking) – The bigger the ego the more the questions brought forward.
  • Questioning to show your “ownership” of the issue – Clearly defining to all that this “turf” is yours and yours alone. All others beware!
  • Questioning to block progress – Passive aggressive questioning that keeps a program or decision from getting off the ground or executed in a timely effective manner.

Effective Questioning

  • Questioning to obtain information and provide a thorough analysis of the business issue being discussed that leads to a reasoned decision – the core of a good process that is the essence of engaged leadership that provides “open” direction and the support and resources to execute on the corporate strategy.
  • Questioning to empower individuals & teams – Positive questioning and a culture of openness can unleash great power in your organization to allow the individual/team to take on challenges with enthusiasm and drive.
  • Questioning to promote innovation/risk taking and teach broader business skills – Effective questioning can uncover creative ideas that lead to dynamic fresh action of your teams that provides outstanding results.
  • Questioning to gain broad and deep knowledge – Use questioning as a learning platform for long term skill development and critical thinking techniques.

I have enumerated more toxic questioning patterns than positive ones. Be aware of your questioning orientation! The good news is that the aspects of positive questions are so powerful and intertwined they sew a strong fabric of effective business execution that should outweigh any toxic questioning that may crop up in your leadership journey. But like all skills you need to have the questioning muscle worked purposefully and consistently.

Rarely does a situation arise even after a thorough and comprehensive questioning session that you get perfect data that provides a strategy/execution/decision that is perfect and absolute. Be comfortable with this less than perfect environment. Understand the ambiguity of business. Move forward in a thoughtful positive fashion using the great asset of questioning only for positive reasons allowing you and your associates to act effectively and monitor outcomes.

Continue to provide positive questioning that enlightens, teaches and builds corporate and individual muscle that promotes a positive a gathering of information, a learning environment and a culture that allows for spirited fact-based dialogue. The intellectual and emotional stew that comes from effective questioning (and the subsequent dialogue/discovery) is a marvelous part of the secret sauce of successful, fun and winning cultures.
What is your next step?!

The author spent 40 years in the insurance industry culminating his career as a CEO of a Fortune 500 organization. He currently spends his time as a C Suite Executive Coach, Board member, world traveler and frustrated golfer and woodworker. He can be contacted at [email protected].