Questions: The Key To Improved Group (and individual) Understanding – Season 2020, Episode 5

High-performing groups and teams are fixated on one big thing – understanding!

The key to understanding is one simple, but not always easy activity – asking questions.

Being high-performing isn’t easy. Ever. It takes hard work, dedication and know-how. It also requires discipline to engage in continuous activities that will foster high-performance. Most teams or groups lack the ingredients, but it’s not technical prowess, or proper structure or even good intentions that are missing. No, the missing ingredients are the things necessary for improved understanding.

High-performing groups or teams lean into the areas of activity that foster great work. And it’s far less technical than most think. Instead, it’s social. It’s about people.

It’s human interaction and our ability to improve those interactions.

Mostly, it’s about our collective ability to have productive discussions. If we’re unable to do that, then it’s over. Any chance we have to be high-performing is out if we can’t have profitable conversations that foster deeper understanding.

High-performing teams.

High-performing groups.

High-functioning relationships. Including marriages and families.

They all depend on understanding.

The quality of our questions determines the quality of our understanding. And the higher our understanding the more likely we can have high-performing groups or teams made up of high-performing individuals.

What happens when you don’t understand?

You have a few options. You can make something up. Assume meaning. Think you know. Don’t work to find out. This is the option taken by many people (which is, in part, why high-performing groups or teams are so rare). The gaps in our knowledge – those things we don’t know or the things we don’t understand – get filled in with what we think or assume.

You can ask questions. You can seek understanding.

Why is that so hard? A few reasons. For starters, you have to admit you don’t understand. Many people would prefer to feign understanding. But that doesn’t work at any level. Pretending you understand is about as effective as pretending you’re a high-performing person. Imagining it won’t make it so.

It’s also hard because we’re human. We have emotions. We react to things. Including words others say.

We can get defensive and combative. Understanding isn’t the initial instinct for most people. Fighting back is. Or running away. Fight or flight. The space between the two is mindful understanding. That just means it’s intentional. We set our minds to understand ahead of time, knowing that during the conversation we’re going to likely be sparked to feel like fighting or fleeing. Special, high-performing people determine in advance to pursue understanding. They can check themselves in real-time to behave in ways that foster understanding instead of conflict for the sake of disagreement.

It’s hard. Very hard. Which is why it’s so rare.

Your team is meeting. The conversation is perfectly fine while the topics are easy, but suddenly a difficult conversation begins. At some point somebody says something that causes another member of the team to bristle. They blurt out, “I completely disagree.” That can derail the entire discussion…or not.

What’s going to happen next? I many cases it turns into a fight. A he-said, he-said ordeal. No increased understanding. No improvement in the discussion. The productivity falls like a rock. The conversation either ends or quickly moves to safer topics. It’s evident the team isn’t going to be able to discuss this tough subject. It’s the mark of a low-performing team. They just can’t handle hard discussions.

What if instead of blurting out, “I completely disagree” the person remained quiet, listening with the intention of understanding the speaker? It doesn’t mean there’s going to be agreement. But it does mean understanding has a chance!

Then, at a proper time, what if the disagreeing listener asks a question without any intention of inciting negative emotions. “Can you tell me more about why you feel the way you do…so I can better understand?”

By asking the question we’re omitting our favorite thing to do though. The thing that fosters nothing productive. We’re not telling that person – or the team – that we disagree. Instead of drawing a line in the sand we’re working to understand.

Very few people can do that instinctively. The fact is, I’ve never seen it, but I’m supposing such people may exist. Maybe there really are unicorns in the wild. Somewhere. I don’t know. But I do know we can make up our minds to behave like that because I’ve seen it in every high-performing team or group.

Questions. Not statements. That’s the key.

Curiosity. Not judgment or reaction. That’s also a key that precedes the questions.

Reaction is easy. We hear something that irks us. Or something we disagree with. Before we can even think we’ve blurted it out. “I completely disagree.” We’re not trying to understand anything except our need to be heard. We must voice our disapproval. Right now!

Why? Where’s the value for the group or the team? How are we pushing understanding forward when we do that?

We do it because we’re selfish.

We do it because we’re judgmental, not understanding.

We do it because we think our view matters more than anybody else in the room. So we MUST speak up.

There is no value for the group or the team. There’s no value for the person voicing the objection either.

A Better Option: Ask Questions Aimed To Increase Understanding

The questions can be statements. It’s important they be candid, but safe and non-threatening without your insertion of opposition.

“Tell me more.”

“Explain more about why you feel that way.”

“Tell us why you see it that way.”

Sometimes people technically think they’re doing good work, but they’re only behaving in a passive-aggressive way to appear like they’re doing good work. They’re really behaving poorly and not helping the group better understand.

“I’d like to know why you feel that way because I don’t see it like that at all.”

“Please enlighten us on why you see it that way.”

Tone matters. It’s communication so it all matters. Facial expressions. Body language. Pay attention to all of it.

Fact: We overvalue our intentions by thinking our intentions are always good. We undervalue the intentions of others thinking they have bad, even nefarious motives.

That’s why we have powerful angry reactions to people who cut us off in traffic. We choose to believe such a person thinks their time is more valuable than ours. They think they deserve to be ahead of us. They’re jerks.

Nevermind they could be rushing to an emergency. We’d rather not think that. Instead, we prefer to think they’ve wronged us. But they’re unaware of how we feel. Our emotions – the ones we choose to embrace – impact us, not them. Why don’t we choose emotions that better serve us? Mostly because we react without pre-thinking. Such an event might ruin our entire day.

That’s the high price we pay for failing to understand or see things in ways that better serve us and the groups or teams of which we’re a part.

So here I sit. In this moment listening to somebody say something that I completely disagree with. I can immediately object. Or I can turn my emotions in a different direction toward curiosity thinking, “I wonder why they feel that way?” Only one way to find out. Ask. But do it in a way that fosters a candid reply. That means it’s on me to do it in a way that won’t make them bristle, shut down or be tempted to be combative.

Because the performance of our group hinges on my performance and everybody else who is a member of this group. My poor behavior doesn’t help. My provoking them to behave poorly doesn’t help things either. How can we ALL benefit? By deepening our understanding.

Stop filling in the blanks with assumptions that may be false. Instead, find out. Seek understanding. Learn how to be part of a high-performing group or team by first learning how to be high-performing yourself. Get busy doing great work to deepen your understanding of others. Until you do…you’ll never be able to leverage the power of others.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Randy

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