Several years ago, Tom Hanks starred in a movie called Cast Away. If you recall the movie, Hanks’ character is marooned on an uninhabited island after his plane crashes in the South Pacific. He attempts to survive on the island using remnants of his plane’s cargo. His wife, played by Helen Hunt, is certain he had been killed and moves on with her life. She is remarried by the time Hanks’ character is discovered and rescued (certainly, a logical action on her part). Unless we are living all alone on a desert island, like the character played by Tom Hanks in the movie, we will generally interact with people every day. Based on these interactions, we often make up a story about the other person, as Helen Hunt did about Hanks’ character.
Some interactions are more important and have more meaning in our lives than other – like our families, co-workers, and customers. In every case, we tell ourselves a story about the other person and why they are behaving in a certain way.
Sometimes the story is accurate, but often, it is based on our assumption of the situation. How do we verify our assumption?
We need to ask.
Yes, asking takes time, and often we are pressed for time. But, it is an important task.
As I speak with groups of people (specifically managers), a common theme is, “I don’t have enough time to do what I need to do.” If you are feeling the stress of getting it all done, it will be hard to ask questions that take time to answer. But, taking the time to meet with an employee and asking questions like, “What can I do to support you in your work?” or, “What does success in your job look like to you?” are important, but not urgent, activities.
Yet, as Stephen Covey would point out, the more time we spend working on the important and not urgent, the more problems we will solve up front. By taking the time to ask questions and listen for answers, the people you lead will understand, value, and apply what you help them discover; not what you tell them.
Here is your action step for this week. Identify one person in your life, someone at home or at work, and set aside time to ask a question and then listen. Listen without judgment or advice giving. Use phrases like, “Tell me more” or “That’s interesting; how’s it working.” Let me know how it goes and post the results here.