Wednesday, May 29, 2013

LEADERSHIP: To Have The Most Impact, Ask The Right Questions

Questions give you the chance to hear what the other person is thinking, giving you more opportunity to accurately determine his or her influencing style. By really listening to the person's response, you will know whether you can move on to your next point, or if you need to back up and readdress something in a way that helps the other person see your perspective and brings him or her closer to your position.

According to a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality*, when people feel listened to by those trying to influence them, their liking of, commitment to, and trust in the influencer increases – all of which strengthen your influencing capability in the situation and overall.

It's important to remember there are different types of questions, and what kind will be most effective depends on the situation and what you are trying to elicit from the person.

1. Convergent questions: What, where, who, and when questions get a person to clarify the specifics of what he or she is thinking. Converging questions can be important when time is of the essence or you are dealing with someone who is theoretical.

2. Divergent or expansive questions: Why and what if questions ask a person to expand on what he or she is thinking. Divergent questions can be important when you need someone to see the larger contest of a position.

3. Integrating questions: If…then what questions demonstrate an attempt to find common ground between opposing positions. This builds trust and encourages compromise, which is important in situations where the stakes are high for both sides.

Asking the right questions enables you to see whether you can continue to "push" your opinion to a receptive person or if you need to "pull" the person back into the conversation before you lose his or her attention. Asking questions keeps people engaged, which is paramount when you are trying to influence someone's thinking or behavior.

Perhaps most importantly, asking questions frames the entire conversation as an inquiry in which both sides are coming toothier to uncover the best solution. Not only are you communicating that you haven't come with an immovable agenda, you are demonstrating that you care about and are open to the other person's perspective, creating trust. This is intentional influence at its most effective. A culture of trust is a trademark of high performing teams and organizations, and the benchmark of great leadership.

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This post was excerpted from an article by Chris Musselwhite and Tammie Plouffe originally published by The Harvard Business Review.

*  Ames, Daniel; Maissen, Lily Benjamin; Brockner, Joel. "The role of listening in interpersonal influence." Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 46, Issue 3, June 2012, pages 345-349.

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