Opinion: Questions and answers


The sage once said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we’d listen twice as much as we talk.” That may well have been the intention, but in practice, it rarely seems to work out that way. Too often, we share our points of view with little notion of the perspective of the folks with whom we are interacting. With age comes a bit of wisdom and, if we are lucky, a slowing of our belief that we “know” what the other person has in mind without taking the time to ask them. Yet, we can still seem eager to hear our own voice. 

In conflict with others at work or at home, we feel compelled to air our grievance. We explain our take on the perceived or real transgression and demand contrition or even retribution. But, how do we know that our assumptions are valid? What if we simply misunderstood, or the culprit lacked knowledge of their error? 

In working to resolve disagreement or performance issues in our businesses, we work to lead with questions rather than accusations. Young managers are coached to ask two questions before making any statements. The first must be a sincere effort to avoid allegation (not “why did you lie?” but rather “what where you trying to say when we talked?”). The second question is designed to require the interrogator to listen to the answer of the first. Without a careful hearing, it is nearly impossible to ask a thoughtful follow-up. Moreover, active listening can clear one’s mind of our own bias. Too often we hold our breath while others speak, our mouths already full with our response even the other speaker has yet to communicate. What point can be found in a question if we rarely bother to listen to the answer? 

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