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Men build too many walls and not enough bridgesIsaac Newton

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Ask questions to engage people

Ask questions to engage people

The culture of asking questions is not very widespread in corporate circles. Yet, it is an invaluable driver of engagement and progress. How can we get the most out of this tool to mobilize energies?


Leaders are recognized for their ability to provide answers, i.e., find solutions to problems, solve dilemmas, provide direction, etc. However, an essential but underestimated quality is the ability to ask good questions. Asking questions is indeed a fundamental driver of leadership. Albeit a delicate skill, it can be extremely beneficial if properly mastered:

- Managers can help people grow by asking questions which make them aware of improvement opportunities much more acutely than if their development needs were simply spelled out.

- Managers can help people open up their thinking by raising questions that propose new ways to formulate problems, suggest hitherto unexplored ideas, challenge ways of doing things, etc. Asking questions thus helps to generate ideas and encourage a more change-friendly mindset.

- Finally, and most importantly, asking questions also fosters engagement. Questions not only open the door to dialogue, but also help people take ownership of problems and imagine their own solutions. In this sense, questions are a form of empowerment that energizes people and drives them into action.

However, in cultures that value action and affirmativeness, asking questions is often regarded as an admission of weakness, as it may appear to be a confession of ignorance. So, how can managers ask questions without jeopardizing their credibility or seeming manipulative? It first takes some hard work on the content and formulation of the questions posed—but also extreme vigilance with regard to the tone of voice and posture adopted. Doing so is all the more important given that the impact of the questioning process extends beyond the immediate discussion. Setting the example in this way fosters a mindset of mutual listening and cooperation that is invaluable to companies whose environment drives them to frequently challenge the status quo.

In this synopsis:
- Ask questions to help people make progress
- Capitalize on the motivating power of questions
- Encourage dialogue by asking questions

Synopsis n.232a