Like any other key decision-maker, your responsibilities require that you make hundreds of decisions daily. This means you have developed a quick and effective way of getting to the bottom of things (for a quick review on how to make better decisions, read “When Stakes Are High: How to Make Better Decisions”).
There are two reasons, however, that we ask questions – learning (information exchange) and liking (impression management). And overlooking the follow-up question may mean we miss capitalizing on both – and thus lose out on some important emotional intelligence skill-building.
What does emotional intelligence have to do with the follow-up question? And how do you harness the power of this?
Many important tenets of emotional intelligence have to do with relationship management – both with people and with the organization. Some examples of these skills are: empathy, perspective taking, catalyzing change, building bonds and trust, and creating and strengthening team.
If you make time to ask follow-up questions in your conversations and discussions, you strengthen these skills:
1. You gather additional information, fostering your ability to “see” a bigger picture, and the opportunity to widen the scope of your thinking through diverse perspectives; and
2. You demonstrate a willingness to listen to the other person in the conversation, showing active interest in connecting, with the intent to foster open dialogue and to consider new perspectives.
So, what is a powerful follow-up question?
First, the term follow-up is just what it implies – it’s a question that comes after another question.
Second, there are follow-up questions – and follow-up questions. By this, I mean that some are simply a means to an end, and others are door-openers. And it’s the door-openers that are powerful.
What are the traits of powerful follow-up questions?
1. Open-ended. Make sure your question is not a disguised opinion or judgment. For example, if your question starts out with the phrase, “Don’t you think that..,” please refrain. Otherwise, you will have cut off creative conversation and the opportunity to appreciate and acknowledge the perspectives of others.
2. Begin with the word “what” or “how,” rather than “why.” The word “why” is associated with giving an answer to defend one’s position (e.g., “Why did you do that?” “Why did this happen?”). Instead, begin with something like, “Tell me more,” “What’s behind that?” or “How might that work?” This supports open dialogue.
3. Be genuine with the intent to listen and learn. Don’t ask questions unless you are ready to do so – people can spot inauthenticity a mile away, and your efforts will backfire. Part of vibrant leadership is being willing to stretch and grow.
The next time you are brainstorming with others, take the time to ask that second “follow-up” question at various points of your discussion. You’ll reap the benefits of more information, greater participation by others, and connections at a deeper level that foster strong relationships and team.
(Gratitude to Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John for the inspiration of their article, “The Surprising Power of Questions,” Harvard Business Review, May-June 2018 issue.)
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.