Warren Berger describes why questions are so important to innovation in this Learning Leader Podcast by Ryan Hawk. Issues arise everyday in construction. True builders step up with the right questions to innovate and solve the problem. “Why, What If, And How” is the basis for innovation. No one has all of the answers, sometimes you need to detach and look around. Asking questions opens the door to new ideas to be more efficient and get over the hurdles that are thrown in front of you everyday.
If you are in a leadership position, odds are someone sees a talent in you to lead and a moral compass to make good decisions, with a vision to know where the project needs to be. You gained experience over time from listening to others and possibly even learning from you failures. But now, you are on the point and people look to you for answers, to solve problems, resolve conflicts right now. What is the best process for drilling down, analyzing the information, making good decisions, and finding the right answers?
First be comfortable in not having all of the answers… Second get comfortable with asking the right questions to get the answers to allow you to make the best decision. Either way, put your ego aside and learn the art of asking questions.
Many conflicts and problems come from a simple misunderstanding. People will take positions and defend with the facts that support their position. When someone asks you a question, it may be swayed to get the answer they want. There may be three more questions that need to be asked to come to the right decision. The first question should be why are they asking the question and what are they trying to accomplish. Then, what really needs to be accomplished. Asking the right questions will get you to the best decision.
Ury notes a story in “Getting to Yes”, that illustrates this perfectly:
“Focusing on positions nearly led to unnecessary bloodshed in a dispute between farmers and the national oil company in Iraq after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Displaced farmers in the south of Iraq had banded together, leased arable land from the government, and used their last savings and borrowings to plant crops. Unfortunately, only a few months later the farmers received a letter calling for them to vacate the land immediately in accord with the fine print of their lease, because oil had been discovered under it. The oil company said, “Get off our land.” The farmers replied, “It’s our land, and we’re not leaving.” The oil company threatened to call the police. The farmers said, “There are more of us,” so the national oil company threatened to bring in the army. “We have guns too; we aren’t leaving,” came the reply. “We have nothing left to lose. As troops gathered, bloodshed was averted only by the last-minute intervention of an official fresh from a training program in alternatives to positional bargaining. “How long will it be before you expect to produce oil on this land?” he asked the national oil company. “Probably three years,” they replied. “What do you plan to do on the land over the next few months?” “Mapping; a little seismic surveying of the underground layers.” Then he asked the farmers, “What’s the problem with leaving now, as they’ve asked?” “The harvest is in six weeks. It represents everything we own. “Shortly thereafter an agreement was reached: The farmers could harvest their crops. They would not impede the oil company’s preparatory activities. Indeed, the oil company hoped soon to hire many of the farmers as laborers for its construction activities. And it did not object if they continued to plant crops in between oil derricks.”
When you gather people to work on an issue it is always best to walk through where we are and how you got there. As hard as it may be, put yourself in the position of facilitator… you are not for or against…just trying to find the right solution. Ask about the facts one by one, and listen to the responses without acceptance or disagreement. Get to the “why” behind the disagreement. Then start back through the critical facts and ask about the items of agreement and disagreement. Get the team shaking their head yes to the items they agree upon. With this you have just set a tone of cooperation. Now move the the disagreement and listen to pros and cons of each side.
The key is to not assume knowledge. Ask the question to be sure there is a reason vs just an emotional attachment to an idea. You need to have your mind open and listen to the responses. If something doesn’t sound quite right, there is probably something than needs to be clarified. Either way, ask questions until you get good solid information.
By listening and noting understanding of how each side’s point could have validity puts people at ease. During the discussion, ask questions to clarify vague points. Then repeat back what you have heard and ask if it was heard correctly. Be sure everyone has an understanding before moving on. This will be a bit tense and some people may want to respond to counter what was said. As long as it is productive this is a good next step to the process.
In some cases, questions can be perceived as bad things… it can make people defensive at first. It can make others feel like you don’t trust them. “What, you don’t believe me?” a few good responses could be…. “No that’s not it at all, I have never seen that before, could you walk me through it in detail? Your job is to ask the right questions in the right way.
We are creatures of habit. We under pressure we always go back to what we know and feel comfortable with. IN problem solving, sticking with what you know can be your biggest downfall. No situation is the same, people will react differently in the same situation due to a myriad of reasons, emotion stress sleep, etc… The phrase, I have been doing it that way for 20 years!!!! kills me
Bottom lines is that you need to ask the right questions of the right people