We are expert “assumers”. We assume we know what others want, how to communicate with them, the best approach to recognizing them, and more. Unfortunately, our assumptions aren’t often correct. They are typically direct reflections of our own preferences, not others’. The result? Challenging, even strained, relationships and team dynamics.
So what do we do about it? It’s quite simple really – we become intentionally curious. Instead of being expert “assumers”, we must become expert “askers”.
Below are five simple, but powerful questions to help guide intentional curiosity. I’ve used these in team-building and leadership workshops many times and you can physically feel pre-existing tension slowly dissipate as people share.
Before jumping to the questions though, keep these process tips in mind:
- Allow individuals to read, process, and respond to the questions independently before sharing.
- Provide ample time for group discussion. If rushed, this exercise loses its value.
- Sharing in pairs or small groups is helpful, but sharing with the entire team provides greater impact.
- Utilize a facilitator. Yes, I may be biased, since I am one, but I’ve been on the other side – trying to lead my own team through a conversation or activity like this, while participating at the same time. It’s hard and ineffective. Engaging a third party, skilled facilitator to guide the conversation, ask probing questions, acknowledge responses, and create space when needed makes a huge difference.
Okay, now that you’ve vowed to follow the process tips, here are the 5 golden prompts:
- You get the best of me when…
- You get the worst of me when…
- A shadow or weakness I am aware of & working on is…
- You can count on me to…
- This is what I need from you…
When responding to these prompts, consider a few things:
- What motivates you?
- What matters most to you?
- What are your strengths?
- What’s your preferred working style?
- How do you like to communicate?
Real-world examples always help bring things to life, so I’ll share a few from past workshops…
- One woman worked in a different city than the rest of her team. She shared, "You get the best of me when I feel engaged and valued." She went on to explain that sitting in a separate location was making her feel incredibly disconnected and almost forgotten (this brought her to tears). I asked her to share what could be done to make her feel more engaged. In response, she asked her colleagues to call or send an instant message from time to time. The entire team gasped. They had purposefully been avoiding those very actions because they knew how much work was on her plate and didn’t want to interrupt her. Their assumptions led them to do the exact opposite of what was needed. Now, they knew how to shift. A small fix, but significant impact.
- Perhaps the most powerful prompt out of the five is the one regarding a shadow or weakness. Hearing someone own a shortcoming, especially one that is negatively impacting you, creates empathy and motivation to drive change together. One leader admitted to his team that his creativity and forward-thinking nature often resulted in confusing and unclear direction for the team. His brain was constantly exploring new ideas and options and he recognized that it caused him to take the team on a rollercoaster. Once they understood the cause and heard him own this struggle, they had so much more empathy for the challenge and desired to solve it together.
You see? Simple questions, but powerful impact. Just because we are expert assumers doesn’t mean we should continue as such. Be intentionally curious. Learn how to bring the best out of your teammates and help them do the same. Don’t be an expert assumer, be an expert asker.
Abbey uses over a decade of talent management experience to help organizations drive business results through enhanced employee engagement. She is passionate about empowering individuals and teams to be their best. She's also a mom to two sweet girls, a wife to one good man, and a fan of running and hosting dinner parties.