• Ryan Tracy

Questions, or Answers?

By now you've probably heard of Simon Sinek, the leadership guru and author of multiple best-selling books including Start With Why and more recently, The Infinite Game. Well, I came across a quote of his the other day that became the inspiration for this blog, the first on - "The quality of a leader cannot be judged by the answers they give but, by the questions they ask."

I found the topic of questions for the first blog post very fitting because creating effective surveys to mine appropriate data is done best when you have specific, purposeful questions. Questions are usually the foundation for great brainstorming. They can provide breakthroughs and illicit deep, meaningful conversations by creating a comfortable environment. You can accomplish a great deal by asking poignant questions. Questions seem to have a close relationship to listening while answers are a kin to speaking. A great way to improve your listening skills is by asking questions, specifically, questions you do not already know the answers to. Below, I've outlined four rounds of battle, questions on questions (intentionally paradoxical), to help establish why questions hold the power over answers...

Round One: How do we get buy in, questions or answers?

Chances are you've been introduced to Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey's situational leadership model. Here are the four stages in order; Directing, Coaching, Supporting and Delegating.

Being adaptable and situational are very similar. Situational leadership is one of the most effective ways to work with people. This process does in fact start with answers. When processes and simple tasks need to be understood, answers provide clarity. However, as you get into the second quadrant, questions should start to take over. People need to know they can accomplish things on their own. Great questions by a leader can often generate moments of self-discovery, confidence yes even the right answers by the follower, and that's when the Blanchard/Hersey model is at its best.

Questions .5 - Answers .5

Round Two: Variety of questions versus answers?

There are so many ways to ask questions and kinds of questioning. If you google 'kinds of questions' you could find too many to cite. If you google 'kinds of answers' you're still likely to find information on questions. Perhaps the most frequently used questions are simple, closed-ended questions begetting yes or no answers. These seem to be the closest match to answers, direct in nature. From there, we proceed to open-ended questions. There may be no end or boundary to open-ended questions. They are powerful. Open-ended questions are more of an art than a science, they can break moulds and shatter pre-conceived notions in one fell swoop. They can come across as relinquishing control but indeed do the exact opposite. When asked with just the right tone and timed correctly (perhaps even by accident), truly great ideas can be stumbled upon.

Rhetorical questions are very condescending and will come across more insulting than almost any answer will be, sometimes rhetorical questions aren't offered in ill-manner but are asked because the questioner just wants to give their opinion and not truly listen to another's thoughts. They are still to be avoided at ALL costs, personally and professionally. I'm still giving this round of variety to questions versus answers.

Questions 1 - Answers 0

Round Three: Do questions or answers make us better communicators?

We all know communication skills are becoming exponentially more important, personally and professionally. The demand may be because we're getting worse at it, or maybe just because communication skills are left playing catch up to the rate of change we're all enduring. There's certainly no shortage of ways to communicate these days, maybe that in itself has diluted our ability to communicate and spread us too thin. Maybe we're stealing from the concentration of the message in order to get it out on all of our communication streams, I digress. Communication skills are extremely difficult to measure and because I feel I've met my time quotient on this blog I'm giving this round a split/tie.

Questions .5 - Answers .5

Round Four: Does balance have to be between two equal parts?

There is a too much and a too little to everything. Yes, everything.

This blog is clearly favouring more questions are needed, but too many questions by someone you are close to, or work with, will frustrate anyone. In this heavyweight battle of questions versus answers, and specifically in this round of too many questions versus excessive answers, I'll take the former, every, single, time. I think we've all been in the company of a know-it-all or a one-upper and how infuriating it is. Conversely, too few questions or answers can be dangerous. If I'm doing weighing the balance in question, I picture a slightly tilted tee-toter with questioning on the heavier side. Ironically, and historically, answers seem to dominate the management hierarchy. Answers exude confidence, enter male (usually) bravado 'I'm the leader and I need to provide answers to gain respect and establish dominance'. Well, I'm hopeful we're in the midst of a philosophical change, a combined approach, leadership AND management, and yes, questions AND answers.

Questions .75 - Answers .25 (can I do that?)

Questions win with a TKO in the fourth, score 2.75-1.25.

Ok, it may not have been a clean fight as I will confess to some favouritism without a lot of data to support but blogs have to be read with a grain of bias, right? In conclusion, answers are absolutely necessary, they are swiftly given, provide direction and lead to affirmative action. Unfortunately, they are not always welcomed by the listener and all too often derived from assumptions. You can get to a wide variety or answers with questions, answers on the other hand don't seem to trigger many valuable future questions. They end conversations and the potential for anything profound. Usually, after an answer is given to halt a conversation, the only thing that will revive it will be a strong question.

It's amazing how empowering it is when you give up the feeling of having to be right. With all that this year has presented, I hope we can appreciate the importance and priority questions can play over answers . So much progress can be had when intentionally including questions into the process. Asking in order to learn, instead of telling to be right is certainly a virtue we can all strive for. I think starting and ending with quotes is a good practice in blogging and figured this was fitting... "If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it." - (may or may not be Mr. Einstein)

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