I know, if you avoid answering a direct question from Alex Trebek on Jeopardy, you won’t get into “Final Jeopardy” for the win. Nor will you jump for joy and high five your family team when Steve Harvey demands, “And the answer is…” on The Family Feud.
A simple question from your spouse like, “Do you still need the oven?” can turn into a heated (no pun intended) debate! That simple question is based on an expectation. If the oven isn’t in use, it should be turned off. Why? Could it be echoes in your head when your mother nagged, “Don’t use the oven when I’m not home because you might burn the house down?” What if you simply forgot to turn it off after you made wings to munch on during the U.S. Open?
You can deflect the cycle of chaotic discussion by answering the question, with a question. A word of caution – don’t be snarky! Using this tip can help both parties realize the judgments and assumptions riddled in an inquiry. You might answer, “Why do you ask?” That’s right, defuse the discussion before it starts! Especially if you are unsure of the answer.
Years ago, while coaching a CEO who consistently asked questions peppered with assumptions, the direct reports were losing their patience. I coached the direct reports to have fall back questions such as, “What’s that based on?” or “How did you come to that conclusion?” One situation involved the CEO shouting at a VP about an IT software issue that he knew nothing about. No matter what ideas, suggestions or advice the CEO shared in his booming voice, he never actually heard the answers from his VP. Why? Because his VP continued to explain that he had completed the litany of suggested actions and yet the debate ensued. Loudly. Do you recognize this type of communication behavior with someone you know?
I’ve experienced these types of arguments in my personal and professional life, and know first-hand that these arguments cause great tension, ruin friendships, and, at worst, end relationships. A simple expectation based on an assumption could wreak havoc in your life. So, how do we know when we are making destructive assumptions? Start with self awareness and
The LeaderStep7 program offers tips that are habit-forming when it comes to those wide open questions loaded with judgment and assumptions. As a leader, catch yourself before you inquire of your staff. As a direct report, I encourage you to break the cycle. If you are confused by a question, reply with a question to clarify. Again, this must be done with the right intention: the intention of understanding and improved communication.
How can you apply this approach to trapping questions? Who will you try to diffuse using this tip?
“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
– Winston Churchill