Notice how in the Road Runner cartoon, the Coyote never gave thought to gathering data? He consistently came up with some lame idea to solve the problem of capturing the Road Runner. Episode after episode he blew up, fell off a cliff, ran into a wall, shot himself in the foot. He thought that springing into action was the answer to his dilemma. What would he have accomplished with only a few additional questions of the Road Runner’s intent or purpose for his next move? Fewer laughs but also fewer scars.
As leaders we are programmed to spring into action, remove the obstacle, resolve the issue. Great leaders focus on making sure they have the necessary army flanking them to ensure success in taking the hill for which they are responsible. The second step of the Triple AAA Process is to ask questions. Emotional responses can thwart our ability to slide into questioning when someone’s request or version of a story flies in the face of what we may deem logical, adult or fair. According to Dr. Rob Pennington of Resource International, an international expert on effective communication in the office and at home and author of Find the Upside of the Down Times, questions are essential in providing a gateway for someone to feel understood and many times appreciated. After affirming what is being conveyed, asking questions send a signal that you take what is being said as important and allows for defining areas where assumptions or misinterpretations can be identified and corrected.
1. Listen without an agenda.
Look out for two words running through your mind “Yes, but….” or possibly “but you don’t understand”. Maybe the trigger word here is “but…”. We are listening to clarify the intent of the person’s message to us. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of attempting to answer someone’s question and you are sure of your answer but can’t remember the question? Could be a signal of whose agenda you are focused on.
2. Look for words that may be vague or need acceptance of a common definition.
This is again difficult because we hear words or phrases like “lots of”, “all the time”, or “as hard as I am working” and we begin a counter attack. The word attack here is appropriate because we will have to scale walls and cross moats charged with emotion. Granted some of the questions or suggestions may belong in Ripley’s Believe It or Not or maybe even Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a Redneck if” collections. Sincerely asking for an understanding of the points they are making lower the draw bridge allowing you to better find common ground.
3. After repeating what you’ve heard, ask if there is anything additional you need to understand.
This is an amazing question! What is added to the conversation is normally not something that is small in the other person’s mind. Give great weight as you prepare your response to what they add and you will find your input will be much better received.
The purpose of asking questions is to complete the process of making sure you are perceived as understanding all of the issues. This removes the words in point number one above “yes but” or “but you don’t understand” from forming defensive barriers in their mind.
And then you can do a most important step: agree with as much as you can! All this may keep you next time from falling off a cliff…or blowing yourself up…
Next blog is on 4 leadership lessons learned from the Road Runner vs Coyote Rules of Engagement.