I have had an exciting, intense, and wonderful career as a management consultant and have worked with organizations around the world. I have worked with groups trying to chart their future, groups that were stuck trying to get to the future, groups that were locked in conflict, and all kinds of situations in between.

The one helping strategy that never fails me is inquiry--asking good questions.

When a decision has to be made, it should be first formulated as a question. If you can't express it as a question, you will have a very hard time coming up with an effective set of solutions or strategies.

When tempers are flaring and you feel the heat in the room, a good question can help people focus on the issue rather than the combatants:

  • Is this something that the rest of the group also feels strongly about?

  • Are you willing to hear what the concerns are?

  •  Is this a question we must resolve today? 

  •  Should we look at the pros and cons of both options?

  •  What are the areas where we have an agreement?

As long as you are asking meaningful questions, the group knows that things are still functional rather than chaotic. They may feel uncomfortable when strong emotions are expressed, but they know that the work can go on.

When a meeting leader comes up against unforeseen problems or the agenda gets derailed, asking the group to weigh in is both effective and appreciated. You don't have to figure it all out yourself:

  • Given this situation, what would be most helpful as a next step?

  • What is most important for us to finish in this meeting?

  • What suggestions do you have for getting us back on track?

If someone is upset with me, I really want to understand what has happened:

  • Could you say more about that?

  • What did that sound like to you? 

  • How did it make you feel?

  • What do you need right now?

It's important to really listen to the responses, of course. As leaders, we don't need to know all the answers up front, but we do need to know the questions to ask.

Kathleen A. Paris, PhD  is a management consultant, focusing on leadership and strategic planning.  She devotes her energy and effort now to supporting other leaders with training, development, and coaching. 608-445-1085. 608-445-1085

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