Wednesday, December 12, 2007

4 Ways to Create a Question-Friendly Environment

People need permission.

Permission to open up.
Permission to request help.
Permission to offer feedback.
Permission to share their victories and mistakes.
Permission to volunteer information and voice concerns.
Permission to discuss workplace problems before they snowball.

Most importantly, they need permission to ask questions.

BUT HERE'S THE CATCH: your employees, affiliates, team members, students (or whomever else you serve in your organization) are ONLY going to give you credit for what they SEE you DO consistently.

Therefore, you must provide them with constant reminders that they work in a question-friendly environment. Here's a list of four ways to increase the approachability of your organization:

1. Make anonymity optional. It’s important to give employees, customers and members the option to remain nameless. This will increase the probability of a question being asked.

For example, you could introduce an anonymous question box, (NOT a suggestion box, but a QUESTION box) or a secure online forum or a name changing policy for all questioners.

REMEMBER: people tend to speak up when their name isn’t on the line.

2. Diffuse defensiveness. Yes, it ALWAYS exists. Consider these suggestions:

*Instead of saying, “Does anybody have any questions?” consider saying, “What questions do you have?” It’s less threatening.

*Encourage people to write their questions on cards ahead of time and pass them to the front. This approach is less aggressive and diverts attention so people aren’t put on the spot.

*If you’re holding a group meeting, having a one-on-one interview or delivering a speech, make sure to say, “We’ll have plenty of time for questions at the end!” or “Feel free to ask questions at any time.” That way people can prepare themselves.

REMEMBER: your primary task is to make the other person(s) feel comfortable.

3. Post past questions. On your website, in your marketing materials and all around your facility/office/building, post lists of frequently (and infrequently) asked questions and their answers.

This tool accomplishes several goals. First, it’s a VISUAL representation of your question-friendly environment.

Secondly, it immediately addresses the key issues faced by the people you serve.

Thirdly, it builds a foundation of comfort and enables people to move past their primary concerns.

Ultimately, your employees and members will start to ask more specific, more penetrating questions, now that they’ve been given permission to do so.

REMEMBER: pose the first question and people will follow.

4. Be curious, not judgmental. This is the foundation of approachable managmenet. After all, "if people can't COME UP to you; how will they ever get BEHIND you?"

So, honestly ask yourself: Are you genuinely curious to hear people’s answers?

If not, don’t bother asking. See, we live in a sort of “Gotcha” Culture. And it’s easy for people to assume that your questions are just a means to an end. Just a way to catch them in the act.

So, give signals to people that you’re their PARTNER, not PERSUADER.

Prove to them that questioning is merely a small part of the discovery process. That way, they’ll perceive your questions as helpful, not threatening; curious, not interrogating.

REMEMBER: ask with the intent to listen and learn, not to control the conversation.

LET ME ASK YA THIS...
How does your organization create a question-friendly environment?

LET ME SUGGEST THIS...
Share your secrets here!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag

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