In this series I’m sharing the Six Shifts leaders can make in order to be more effective in having a high-stakes conversation. Shift 4 involves moving from cross-examination and leading (or rigged) questions to questions based on a sincere desire to learn.

When you feel strongly about an issue do you notice yourself over advocating for your position? One of the ways we over advocate is by asking rigged or agenda-driven questions. These are questions aimed at strengthening your “case” while weakening the other person’s argument. You know you are asking a rigged question when you are hoping for a specific response. The problem with rigged questions is that they are inherently manipulative and as such, weaken trust and inhibit learning.

In contrast, inquiry-based questions are aimed at eliciting new insights and information. When you ask an inquiry-based question you are not sure what the response will be. You ask with the intention of fostering mutual learning.

It is always easier to engage in authentic inquiry when you have adopted a partnership mindset. One that sees the other person, not as an opponent or obstacle but rather, as a partner – someone to learn from. True curiosity involves a readiness to revise the way you see things based on what you learn from others.

Here are three strategies you can use to make the shift from rigged questions to real inquiry:

1. Notice your go-to questions.
Pay attention to the nature of your questions and the intention behind them. Do you tend to ask questions that will help you win or do you engage with a sense of honest curiosity and receptivity? Lean away from rigged and toward open questions.

2. Acknowledge disagreement and feelings. You don’t need to abandon your own feelings, values, and perspective in order to be authentically curious. Simply acknowledge that, in addition to what you feel or believe, there may still be things you don’t know or understand. That might sound like: “I think you and I see things really differently. Tell me more about X.”

3. Track your statements to questions ratio. In a recent HBR post, Roger Schwarz suggests that during your next next team meeting you keep count of the number of times you make a statement and the number of times you ask a question. He says, “If you’re like most team leaders, you’ll find that you make many more statements than ask questions and some of the questions you ask aren’t really questions.”

What is your favorite inquiry-based question — one that invites you and the other person to learn from one another?

Image Credit: Sagar Dani at Unsplash

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