As a leader or parent, we have the privilege and responsibility to confront those we are leading when we see a problem they need to solve or an area in which they need to grow. If we are not smart leaders, we will spend fruitless and frustrating time trying to control people and tell them what to do. But if we are smart leaders, we will empower people to build their own solutions and pursue their own growth.
One of the most critical skills we need to learn to be smart leaders is how to ask good questions. Here are 6 reasons why asking good questions is crucial to an effective, empowering confrontation:
1. Questions stimulate the person’s thinking.
Every great solution depends on a person’s ability look at their problem and think critically about it. Questions are the best way to get this thinking process going.
I once had a direct report who was struggling to manage his work responsibilities. One day he called me to ask permission to go on a two-week international mission trip.
My gut response was to say, “You’re not going anywhere until you get your department in order!” Instead, I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, let me ask you a question. How do you think I am feeling about you leaving your job for two weeks?”
He paused. “Not great?”
“Exactly. And why do you think I feel that?”
“Because you think things are going to fall apart when I’m gone?”
“Bingo. So here’s the deal. I will let you go on the trip once you have made me feel like a genius for letting you go.”
Simple questions enabled him to walk away from the conversation knowing that he had a problem to solve. And you know what? He solved it! He came up with solid coverage for his department, and the two-weeks went off without a hitch.
2. Questions make room for the person to make choices that are internally motivated.
The simple fact of life is that people only truly confront their problems and grow because (and when) they want to. Good questions can help a person remember what’s important to them, and then make a powerful choice to address an issue because they care about protecting that value or priority. Telling a person what to do, on the other hand, actually sends the message, “What you want doesn’t matter.” Most of us find that message pretty demotivating.
3. Questions help the person tap into his or her greatness and put it on display during the confrontation.
When we ask good questions, we remind people that we believe they have the power to solve their own problems. We let them know we think they are capable, and have greatness within them.
4. Questions remind the person of things they tend to forget about themselves in failure.
People confronted with a problem often struggle with feelings of shame and failure. Great questions like, “What does God say about you?” or “What is getting in the way of you living out the passions He put inside you?” show them that this problem is simply an opportunity to realign themselves with the truth of who they really are. It is not an indication that they are permanently flawed and incapable of greatness.
5. Questions demonstrate safety, trust, and value for the relationship.
Great questions show safety and trust by sending the message, “I am not trying to control you.” This is the practice of safety and trust. They also communicate respect and value by saying, “You matter to me, and I want you to show up in this conversation.” The second someone gets a whiff that we don’t respect or value them, they will protect themselves from our help. If we want people to receive our input and actually strengthen our relationship with them through this confrontation, then we have to show them that we value them through our questions.
6. Questions allow the one doing the confrontation to remain an ally.
The best confrontations involve the posture, “We’re on the same team, and we’re going to take a look at this problem together.” The goal is to move toward connection, and questions invite the other person to embrace that goal. Punishment or control, on the other hand, automatically tells the person that our goal is disconnection, which will trigger their defenses at lightspeed and effectively prevent them from hearing what we have to say–much less inspire them to work on solving the problem.
So next time you need to confront someone, take a moment to stop and come up with some powerful questions. It may take some practice to adopt this approach, but if you stick with it, you’ll get it–and most importantly, its results.
PS) If you’d like to learn more about what to do when you have to confront someone, take a look at some of our other posts in the leadership section of our blog. This is a good one to start with.