One of the best ways to connect with others in the workplace, whether you are in management, sales or a support position, is to ask questions honestly, wanting to hear the answer. Far too many people, however, jump to suggesting solutions when they should simply be asking better questions. By showing real interest in what people are doing and framing questions positively, you can help create clarity and increase productivity in the workplace.
Approach others with an attitude of curiosity. Ask questions regarding why they did something a certain way or what they were thinking when they made a key decision. By doing this, you encourage others to think analytically and see things from a fresh perspective. Don't feel that you always have to know the answer already when you ask a question. Open-ended, curious questions let you and your team approach situations with no presuppositions in place and can lead to valuable payoffs. Try asking what your team is not doing regarding a specific project that would best contribute to that project's success, and expect to see exciting new initiatives proposed that you likely would not have thought of on your own.
One danger that shows up when people ask questions of customers is that of framing everything from a negative point of view. Particularly in sales, when you hope to help a customer solve his problem, it's all too easy to ask questions that lead the customer toward a negative frame of mind. Instead of asking what problems the customer has or what concerns he has about the services you're offering, ask him what it would mean to him to solve a specific challenge his company is facing or what he hopes to accomplish in the near future. Asking positive questions allows your customer to look at you as a solution and to feel good about his interactions with you and your company.
Just asking open-ended and positive questions is not enough, however, if all you are doing is saying the right words. Use your body language and facial expressions to let those you are talking to know that you care about what they are saying. Take your time so people don't feel as if you are interrogating them. Showing that you are truly interested in what your team members, employees and customers are saying gives them permission to answer honestly and to dig deeper in coming up with solutions. When you really listen to what others are saying, you empower them to take responsibility and show initiative, as well as to ask questions themselves that can lead to real breakthroughs.
Ask questions to avoid the trap of being the person with all the answers, which sends the message that you think you don't need anyone else. Create a culture that encourages everyone in your workplace to ask better questions, and expect a new attitude of resourcefulness and creativity to grow.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net