Need More Information? Stop Talking

February 4, 2010

An executive, who is a coaching client, and I were discussing the use of questions to uncover what’s behind a person’s position on a particular issue. We discussed a number of open-ended questions, like the following:

  1. Can you give me a bit of the history behind this process? What problem did it originally solve? Who was on the team of developers?
  2. Here are the facts as I see them. What else do I need to look at? What am I missing? 
  3. In an ideal world, we would proceed in the following way…. What concerns does this raise for your department?

The executive expressed some disappointment: “I was hoping you’d tell me some questions to get behind these issues.” Later, I realized the opportunity I had missed. Nothing was wrong with the list of questions. The secret the executive was hoping to find lies in the way we handle the responses we get to the questions.

For example, if a person’s answer to a well-formulated question still leaves us murky about what she really thinks, we can respond with a simple statement: “Please tell me more.” The secret, then, is to stop talking. Assuming you are not asking for private or embarrassing information, a pause is a powerful tool. In western culture, if one person is silent after a question is answered, someone else will rush in to fill the vacuum. In the process, that person will often provide more information in relation to the question—exactly what the silent person is looking for.


Three Words to Make You a Good Listener

April 20, 2008

Recently, I attended a presentation by Sandra Yancey, founder of e-women network.  When she referred to three “X” words, something clicked for me.  These aren’t X-Rated words but X-Relationship-building words or X-Make me-a-good-listener words, or X-Now-I-get-what you-mean words.

When you really want to understand someone, or make them understand that you seek to understand them, try these three words:

  • Example—“Can you give me an example of that?”
  • Explain—“Could you explain your point in a little more detail?”
  • Expand—“Could you expand on that?”

Three “X” words.  Very simple.  Very powerful.