I’m always amazed when someone has an opportunity to ask a question and they pass on doing so. In some respects, I look at doing so as being granted a gift, but I feel I am in the minority with this type of thinking. Which brought me to thinking about the reasons people don’t pursue something which I believe offers them so many advantages.
One of the most helpful things I learned when one of my professors was to ask what is referred to as the five W’s and one H. The W’s cover who, what, when, where and why and the H covers the how. If you were to apply asking any of these six topics in any given scenario, I would like to believe it would naturally lead you to want to pursue the other five topics. The first question would be like an appetizer to queue up the person you are speaking with to warm up to additional ones. This is independent of whether you start with the “who” and establishing the main character you will be conversing about.
When you are the person who is asking questions, consider an additional benefit you gain from being in this position. You get to practice your listening skills. A skill from my perspective which is highly under rated, yet an extremely valuable one to master. In some ways, I liken listening to being a bit of a lost art, and this was brought into sharp focus for me this past week. The focus of being a good listener was something I was repeatably hearing about. This is in the context of people noting to me that they found it difficult to be a good listener. This didn’t surprise me, but it did present me with a fabulous opportunity to ask them why they found listening to be difficult to do?
The responses I heard in terms of why listening was difficult to do had a wide range of reasons. A few of the reasons included finding it difficult to remain present and to intently listen. A second one was that they were easily distracted and a third one was that they wanted to interrupt when they knew they should continue to listen.
Another reason which came up to support why people don’t ask hard questions, is because they are afraid to do so. They are also fearful they will ask the wrong question, or make the person feel badly with the question they are asking. This reason was followed people expressing the possibility of not wanting to hear information they would rather not know. In probing to learn more about the prior reason, a number of people expressed that they believe they might not be able to handle either responding to, or knowing how to process knowing the information conveyed.
Instead of asking a hard question or a series of them, I have witnessed that some people will do whatever possible to avoid doing this. Most of the time this isn’t going to benefit them, although in their minds they think it’s their best option. However, avoidance is going to add to making any scenario unnecessarily more stressful. Why? Because of the choice or perceived strategy to avoid doing so isn’t going to make many circumstances better or different. I’m also certain you can think of one or two examples yourself when you chose to avoid asking a hard question or series of them.
One of the numerous responsibilities people who are in a leadership or sports coach positions have is to regularly ask others hard questions. Questions which often begin with “Help me to understand why…” Asking this type of open-ended question seems simple enough to ask, but as I mentioned earlier, sometimes people don’t want to know the “why” explanation. Consider this a situation of the concept of “ignorance can be bliss”, but I believe having more knowledge and an understanding and appreciation of a situation is far more valuable. This is independent of how difficult it might be to queue up the initial “hard” conversation to occur. For me personally, I have found that one hundred percent of the time having a “hard” conversation and asking difficult questions was entirely worth it.
If you are wondering how to pursue more comfortably asking hard or uncomfortable questions, here are some examples to help make your approach to doing so easier.
- The saying “timing is everything” is a factor you will want to think about, as there will be far more ideal times and places to have a difficult conversation with someone. For example, if someone is emotionally charged, you will want them to become less so. Also consider having a conversation in a place that affords privacy and will not embarrass them.
- Make sure you have a person’s full attention when you intend to have a serious conversation with them, and or a quiet place that will have fewer opportunities for distraction.
- If possible, write down ahead of your conversation the questions you want to ask the person.
- Providing someone with an opportunity to know ahead of time that you would like to have a serious conversation with them can help them to get into the mindset of being ready to respond to your questions. Although conversely, it can also be anxiety provoking, so ideally let the person know that the conversation you are going to have with them is intended to be beneficial for them. It usually is, but there are exceptions.
- Practice asking the hard questions before you do so. This might seem like over engineering, but I can assure you that doing so will put both of you more at ease because you won’t be hearing the hard questions being stated audibly for the first time.
- Preface your conversation by letting the person know you are asking the hard questions that your intentions are not to be punitive, but to help you to better understand how you might be able to support them as a leader or sports coach differently.
- By asking hard questions, you can also gain the benefit of hearing a perspective from the other person you might not have considered. Having additional information from asking hard questions can serve both of you well.
When you get to a place of having mastered being able to ask hard questions, it will help to support your growth and leadership journey, and it will allow you to be a more effective and impactful leader. Perhaps even a touch more empathetic too, when you hear the “why” and other supporting facts following the questions you are posing.
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