The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

As a leader you need candid and specific input from your people. The straight goods. Not just generalizations or feel-good fluff. So how do you make sure you’re getting it? Answer: Ask the right type of questions.

Don’t Ask: General Questions

‘How are things going at the plant?’ ‘Good.’

General questions produce answers that yield little if any information. And they leave too much room for spin. ‘Good’ could mean anything from ‘Well, the place hasn’t burnt to the ground yet,’ to ‘We’re starting to see some solid productivity improvements.’

Don’t Ask: Positive-Assumption Questions

‘Is morale still strong at your location?’ ‘Ya, pretty strong.’

Faced with a positive-assumption question, most employees are reluctant to disappoint. So they respond by weakly confirming the positive assumption. ‘Ya, pretty strong,’ could mean, ‘Sure, among those who haven’t jumped ship yet.’

Do Ask: Negative-Assumption Questions

‘What’s the number one challenge you’re facing in your department?’ ‘Our main supplier has become unreliable at meeting delivery commitments. It’s causing havoc with our production schedule and ultimately we’re disappointing our customers.’

That’s real information that points to a line of constructive questions: ‘Do we understand what is causing supplier unreliability? Do we know how long it’s likely to continue? How could we adjust our schedules to take this into account? What short-term alternatives are there?’

Psychological research has found that respondents are far more likely to divulge problems when asked negative-assumption questions (87%) versus positive-assumption questions (59%) or general questions (10%).

The point? To get real information, ask negative-assumption questions with positive intentions.

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