Just Ask, by Loretta Kuhland
Have you ever been offended because someone made an assumption about what you meant or what you wanted or needed? Of course you have. Have you ever made an assumption about what someone meant or what someone wanted or needed? Of course you have.
By assuming you knew what someone wanted, did you ever deliver the wrong outcome? Of course you have. And, when our starting point is off, our response will also be off.
There is another approach.
Rather than starting with an assumption of what we know, we can start from a place of discovery. We can take some time to ask the other. As Stephen Covey* so aptly reminds us: Seek First to Understand.
For example, you are getting nowhere with a customer. Maybe they are onboard with your offering, but they are concerned about how to pay for it. If you keep pushing on what you want to sell, you will not get to the root of the resistance. It helps to probe a little, dig deeper, really work to understand any push back.
Rather than assuming you know what a coworker meant, ask for clarification: “Tell me more about your concerns about the new product line. I’d like to understand what you are thinking.”
Rather than assuming you know what your customer wants, ask him/her what issues they are dealing with so you can tailor your offering to what they need: “What’s getting in the way of your success?" “What problems are you encountering these days, or anticipating in the future?” “How can I help?”
Rather than imputing motive on someone’s behavior, ask him/her why: “Can you tell me why you left the meeting in the middle of my presentation?” [You can even add how that made you feel: “It felt disrespectful, like you weren’t interested.”]
Rather than assuming what your boss wants from you, ask for more details: “I want to be sure I give you the information you need in the format that is most useful, can you clarify how the information will be used, who will get a copy, when is it needed, any preferred format you have?“
Rather than assuming your staff made a mistake (and react with anger or disappointment) take a deep breath and ask what happened: “Last night we missed our deadline, what happened?”
I don’t know about you, but I am not always conscious of how what I say or do impacts someone else. That doesn’t mean my actions or words don’t have unintended consequences. Don’t assume someone meant to screw something up or to miss a deadline or to be disrespectful or to hurt you.
Ask questions to increase understanding. Not only is it okay, it’s better to ask and know, than to guess and get it wrong.
* 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, Free Press 1989
©Performance Management Services 2017
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Loretta has over 25 years of operations management experience in a wide range of industries. She is an operations consultant, speaker, writer, teacher, trainer, and certified coach - ready to help you & your organization thrive.