Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why the Best Managers Ask the Most Questions

When your employees ask for help, how you respond can either empower them to find a solution or make them dependent on your input. One simple response consistently empowers employees: answering with a question instead of a statement.

"The most common mistake managers make when helping a direct report solve a problem is a knee-jerk reaction to deliver an answer," says LeeAnn Renninger, director of LifeLabs, a Manhattan-based professional development and research organization, which offers a class on this technique.

The problem with advice is that employees don't learn to solve problems independently. They rely on you for answers. Beyond that, advice conveys a lack of confidence in someone's ability to find a solution, so it erodes your employees' self-assurance.

LifeLabs has found, through extensive research, that extraordinary managers ask more questions. "Instead of simply giving an answer, they help their direct reports clarify and deepen their own thinking," Renninger says. "It quickly increases the performance of their team."

Thoughtful questions can move a meeting past a stuck point, uncover overlooked patterns, inspire innovation, and motivate employees. Plus, a team with a manager that asks more questions has higher work satisfaction and a greater sense of unity.

Here are four exercises to help you start asking more questions: 

1. Track how many questions you ask.