In a time when people are stressed out and burnt out, it’s easy for conflict to occur. Sometimes it seems that the simplest question, conversation, or meeting sparks unnecessary conflict. While you are trying to move your ideas, decisions and projects forward that conflict only leads to spiraling down the negativity drain, stuck in a rut or spinning your wheels in place. I’ve learned that the key to productive conversations isn’t in the objectives, or who is in the room, it’s in the questions you ask. In this episode I’m going to cover the key keys for how to ask questions that spark meaningful conversations that move you forward, not conflict that holds you back.
- Ask open-ended questions (not yes or no questions)
- Get specific (not general)
- Ask for a story or example (take out assumptions of understanding)
- Follow up three times (go deep)
- Be curious like a kid (push your expertise and knowing aside)
- Ask about reactions (don’t respond to them)
- Ask what questions you didn’t ask (you don’t always know what to ask)
Tamara’s Everyday Innovator style is Risk Taker Experiential. What’s yours?
Sticky Inspiration: Ask questions that spark conversation, not conflict
Lesson & Action: Use one of the 7 keys to change the outcomes of your conversations
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Raw Podcast Transcript:
Hey. Hey everyone. Tamara here, your host, creator of the Innovation Quotient Edge Assessment, founder of Long Street, and author of the book, innovation is Everybody’s Business, which you can get on Amazon. And finally, the person who has traveled to seven states in a 10 day period. So yeah, if I sound a little exhausted today, I think maybe I am.
but I am not too exhausted to talk about today’s sticky note, inspiration and topic. So I dug into this in today’s 10 minute burst of innovation, which is for people in our community. So if you’ve taken the Iqe assessment, if you have purchased the toolbox, or if you are one of our elite certified coaches, and this is more of a conversation, but I didn’t wanna miss out on bringing this topic that we talked about this morning to you and all of the world in the podcast.
And the topic is simply this, how to ask questions that spark conversation, not conflict. How many times have we been in meetings, presentations, conversations, performance reviews, any of those things where. We are trying to get to a really good conversation that helps us move things forward, helps us get more insights, help us, helps us make decision, helps us move our projects forward, whatever it is that we’re trying to get to, and we ask a question to the group or to the person on the other side of the table to only get met with massive resistance, confusion, and all of that turns.
Conflict, and then what happens in that conversation, we end up spinning our wheels. We end up going down the negativity drain. We end up stuck in place, or we end up just crossing wires because we’re not even having the same conversation I have found. One of the keys to being a strong everyday innovator and to having a strong and valued voice in your world is to be able to ask questions in a way that actually sparks conversation, not conflict.
So I wanna give you seven tips for how to ask those questions so that you can have those rich and meaningful conversations so that you can get people on board with your journey of innovation. The idea is you’re trying to push forward so that you can spark healthy debate that’s actually gonna fill gaps in holes, help you make your thinking strong.
and make strategic decisions, make the right decisions coming outta those conversations. If I sound a little passionate about this topic, I am because the times that I have seen this work for or against people is, well, I feel like every single day of my career. So let’s dig in how to ask questions that spark conversation, not conflict.
First, ask open-ended questions, not yes or no question. So not, do you like my ideas, but what is it about my ideas that resonate with you? Not, do you think we should do this more? How do you think we should do this? What about this would work for you? You see the point? Open-ended questions. Get people beyond the yes or no and get ’em to actually think and talk.
It gets those wheels turning. Here’s the challenge with yes or no question. . When we ask yes or no questions, it’s a thumbs up or thumbs down vote. And we’re humans, so we’re automatically inclined to gravitate towards the no. And when we’re putting people into that thumbs up, thumbs down situation, we’re not asking them to explain.
We’re not asking them to think. We’re not asking them to connect with us. We’re just asking them for a yes or. , it shuts everything down. And that creates conflict because you’re not getting what you need out of the conversation. They’re probably not getting what they need. And that creates, it creates conflict.
So instead ask open-ended que questions. How would you, what would you, why would you questions that get people thinking and. . One of the greatest gifts that you can give the people around you isn’t just ideas, but the gift of having the room and the space, the opportunity to think. So if you wanna spark conversation that actually moves things forward, not conflict, that shuts everything down.
Ask open-ended questions. . All right. The second one is get specific, not general. Here’s what I find. Um, oftentimes people ask questions in a very general way, assuming the details are obvious. The challenge is the details are not obvious. We need guidance on how to answer questions or how to have that conversation with you.
And if your questions are very general. , it’s very hard for me to answer, to respond, and therefore I’m all over the place. And what do we create confusion. What does that lead to? Conflict. So for example, instead of saying, how would you move this project forward? So good start, it’s an open-ended question.
You might say, how would you move this project forward if we had to have it complete in three months? Do you see there now? I. , I’m being very clear about the fact there’s some urgency behind it, right? We have three months to finish this. I need to know what those steps are, right? So now we can have a conversation in a very meaningful way versus if I just said, how would you complete this project?
You might go off on tangents that have no relevancy to what I’m talking about because I need it done in three months. So be as specific as possible. People think that boundaries hinder innovation, but I don’t see it that way. I, in fact, I see those boundaries. More as guardrails that help us create innovation.
There’s actually a lot of space for innovation if we’re very clear and very specific and that confusion often comes cuz we’re not clear and we’re definitely not specific, but we expect the person on the other side of the table to know right, to get it. But they’re not. And they’re responding all over the place and we’re mad and they’re mad.
So avoid being general. Okay. Number three, ask for a story or an example. Take out assumptions. Humans are wired for storytelling. It’s how our brains actually work. We love stories and stories and examples. Help us take the assumptions out of it. They’re causing that conflict because they’re inaccurate.
I’ll give you an example from a non-profit that I’m on the, I’m on the board of. We were trying to, to figure out how to communicate. , how to have meetings that were better attended, how to have more collaboration, how to get people to drive more action, all those things. Someone in the meeting said, I think we should use consensus agendas.
Um, this way everybody input stuff. It allows us to get on the same page before we get in the meeting. I’ve done ’em in the past and it worked really well, and in fact it was really helpful. So normally it would be my inclination. Very human, human, very natural to just go, oh, . That sounds interesting. Let’s talk about that.
but instead I took a step back and thought, you know what? I better make sure I’m not assuming I understand why that’s better, why that approach is better. So let me ask, so I just said, Hey, can you give me an example of how that helped in your meetings in the past and your team in the past? And she went into this whole example about how before she had ’em, like anything that someone wanted to talk about got thrown out into the meeting where with this kind of, this is what happened and how it impacted the meeting.
So she went into total detail in her story, but I really got to understand why that approach could be useful to us and how it could be useful and why she thought it was valuable. Kind of highlighted where she thought the problems were in our meetings currently as well. Never assume you get it. Ask for stories and ask for example.
that takes out the assumptions that lead to conflict. I find this is especially true when people use language that could have a million meaning meanings, right? It’s kind of so fluffy and subjective. Like someone will say, you know what we really need? We need a wow marketing campaign, or we need to surprise and delight customers like so-and-so.
All right. What does that even mean? Do you know what the heck? I don’t know. So in those situations, I’d really love to ask, can you gimme an example of either a business you’ve worked on or a brand or business that you’ve interacted with that’s really done surprise and delight? Well, and then they go into a whole story about their experience and you’re like, oh, now I get it.
Story and example takes out the assumptions, which takes out the conflict. Right? You know what you’re actually talking about and it really. when you share the story too, by the way, it actually really resonates with the people on the other side of the table. It’s really important to share stories and examples.
Okay, the next one is follow up. Three times go deep. Part of the reason we stay or get to conflict is because we stay superficial. So someone says, why don’t think we should do that? Because, uh, it didn’t work five years ago. Don’t we go, okay. All right. Yeah, we should probably make some changes what we’re doing, so we.
Have those pitfalls again instead, because instead of jumping to solution, which is our natural, go-to follow up three times with questions. Well, why did it fail last time? Well, what makes you think that that’s relevant today? Well, how would we change it to make it work today? Dig, dig, dig. Spend more time listening and less time driving to solution.
I love to follow three times, especially in those moments. where I think I know the answer because those are probably the moments where I really don’t know the answer. And those nuggets of gold that you uncover when someone goes deeper and deeper and deeper if you haven’t already. I would go back to the podcast that I shared, I think it was last week or the week before, about the power of, tell me more.
When someone comes to me and says, here’s my idea, or here’s my challenge, here’s my pushback. I wanna ask questions that get them. To spark thinking and conversation. So I’ll say, okay, that’s an interesting thought and or an interesting challenge that you just brought up. Tell me more. Okay, so you think that problem is because of this problem.
Okay, tell me more about that. Right? And dig and dig and dig. Follow up three times. Listen more. All right. The next one is be curious like a kid. Kind of don’t know anything. Put all that expertise, all that knowledge aside, and be curious like a kid. Have you ever watched two kids interact and try to figure something out?
It is so beautiful to watch because nothing is set in stone. Nothing is how it’s always been, or the standards in the business, or how something has to operate, right? They’re just so open-minded and so curious. and you know, a conversation about why one kid likes that stick suddenly turns into how roots grow into a tree because they’re just asking question after question and not assuming they understand or know anything.
I love to do that with the people that I, I work with the people in my life. I love to just take a step back, step out of my knowledge and my expertise, and ask questions without judgment. That just put me to a childlike state. thinking, well, anything’s possible. So let me find out where this person is coming from.
Those are the types of questions that spark conversation and avoid conflict. Cause we’re not pushing our knowledge, we’re not pushing our our box onto them. We’re really seeking to understand, and that’s gonna get you and the people that you’re with to a much better place. Okay, two more left. The next one is ask about reactions.
Don’t respond to. Here’s what happens. . In fact, let me share a story of two that did the two different things. So I’m in the process of getting bids for a new logo for one of my company’s Howdy Puppy, which is a CBD petre, and it’s time to, we got a new puppy, so it’s time to up update the logo, put the new puppy on the logo.
I’m pretty excited about that in itself. So I’m talking to these different designers and I’m talking about kind of what we’re looking for and, and one designer, I’m having a phone call with. and he shows me something and says something and I say, I don’t know. I feel like that would just make me really frustrated.
Like it’s, that’s, that’s just, that’s too overwhelming to look at. And he goes, okay, well we don’t want that. So how about this solution? So here’s what he did. He responded to my emotion. He tried to solve my emotion versus asking about it. Now here’s the problem when you do that, , you get that other person stuck in their emotions.
So here I am, I’ve said I’m overwhelm. I’ve said busyness, right? Both those things are negative. And now for the rest of the conversation, I’m stuck in a feeling of overwhelm because that’s the last emotion I had, and he’s trying to solve it versus seeking to understand where that’s even coming from. He did not get the business.
So the second one I’m talking to, he’s showing me some concepts, some designs, and I say, you know, I just, I think that’s gonna create a lot of confusion. That’s the wrong message. Now, he doesn’t say, oh, well, let’s try to clear up the confusion. Here’s some suggestions. Instead, he asks me about my emotion, about my reaction.
He says, tell me what it is that you find confus. and that got my wheels turning. That got me talking, and that got us to a great conversation. So just to compare those two with logo designer one, I’m stuck in busyness and overwhelm and we’re getting nowhere, and now we’re having conflict because we’re not on the same page.
Versus number logo designer number two. Who actually asked me about my reaction. We dig deeper, we uncover the layers, and we have a really meaningful conversation about what to improve. Obviously, that person got the business, so make sure when someone responds with their emotions, positive or negative. So it could be, it’s frustrating, it’s overwhelming, it’s exhausting.
It makes me angry, or it could be this is exciting and energizing, whatever it. Don’t respond to that reaction and emotion. Ask about it. There’s a lot of layers deep. There’s a lot of things underneath that emotion, that reaction that you have the opportunity to respond to if you do. So, this one is most overlooked and probably one of the most powerful things that you can do in trying to spark that conversation and, and avoid that.
I also wanna point out one other thing about emotions that actually, um, my fiance just pointed out to me. Cause I was telling him about this podcast and what I wanted to record, and I often share with him what I’m gonna talk about, just kind of walk it through. It’s good to have someone to bounce things off of.
and he said, you know, the other thing about emotions that’s really challenging is that they’re very subjective. So what might be, you know, what I perceive as pain is different for you, or what I might perceive as very frustrating might be something that’s only mildly frustrating for you, or what mi what I might view as overwhelming might be something you consider easy.
So that’s the other thing about asking about reactions and emotions versus responding to them is, , it’s too subjective to take it on the surface. My definition of frustration and my level of acceptance of things that get me too frustration are gonna be very different than yours. So we need to seek to understand what people even mean by the language that they use.
Okay, and lastly, you ready for this? Ask what questions you didn’t ask. You don’t know what to ask sometimes I often don’t know what to ask and when we don’t know what to ask, we miss critical things. I love at the end of a meeting to say, what did I not ask you about that you think I should know? Is there anything that I missed that you think is important for me to understand?
And if they need time to say, Hey, here’s what I want you to think about. I don’t know everything to ask you, so I just want you to think about if there’s anything I missed or anything in this discussion that we didn’t cover that you think is important. You don’t have to tell me now. You can come back and tell me later.
We don’t know everything. We don’t always know what to ask. And here’s the problem, if we don’t ask, we don’t always get the answers. We don’t always get the conversations that we need because we’re not asking the right questions and we don’t know what to ask. We don’t know what those questions are. I’ll give you two examples.
One personal and one from an everyday innovator in our community that came that she gave this example in our 10 minute burst this morning. So here’s my personal life. So I have two teenage boys and. I eat them. For the longest time they had cereal and milk for breakfast. Maybe not every day, but a lot of days, especially school days when we’re all kind of in a hurry.
So I just kept buying milk and cereal. Milk and cereal. Right. That was my habit. That was my routine. That was my go-to. And one day I kind of realized that I was throwing a lot of old milk away cuz they weren’t actually using it. And the cereal had been in our pantry for a long time and now we had three boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios.
I, I, I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so I turned to them and I. Hey, what’s up? And they said, oh, well, we don’t eat cereal in the morning anymore. We eat eggs and bacon and stuff now. And I was like, oh, well, why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve stopped buying it? And one of ’em just casually looks up for Miss Breakfast, looks at me and goes, well, you didn’t ask.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not for abdicating responsibility at people to speak up and to say stuff when things are working, when things are not. , but oftentimes people don’t even realize it. They don’t even know they’ve moved on and you’re in this old habit and this old routine. So take a second and ask, what am I not asking you?
Right? Uncover those things that you’re not realizing. Here’s the story that I got today was one of our everyday innovators in our community. She has just gone through a reorg, so now instead of going through this channel or that channel, they have to go through a different channels to get stuff done and things that people used to share, they.
Sharing. So nobody’s talking about the things that need to be improved, the processes that need changes, all that. And nobody’s asking anymore because they’ve quote unquote reorged, right? So it’s okay, well, it’s not okay. And she said things, she said, you know, this makes me realize I need to go to my teams and say, what are the conversations that we’re not having that impact you on a daily, daily basis?
Like, what are the things that you’re dealing with that we’re not even talking about that I need to know about? Ask what questions you didn’t ask. You will be amazed at what comes up and nine outta 10 times people respond with, I don’t think there’s anything but you know, this one time, yada, yada, yada.
There’s always stuff that we don’t know to ask. We can’t possibly know what to ask every single time. It is so important that we, as everyday innovators think about and are really intentional about how to ask questions that spark conversation, not. . And when I say conversation, some of that is agreement.
Some of that is disagreement. Some of it is yesy. Some of it is knowing. Some of it is everybody excited, some of it is some frustration. Like all that’s okay. But you know the difference between a conversation that’s moving things forward and conflict that gets you stuck in a rut or spinning your wheels or spiraling down the negativity drain.
Questions that spark conversation, not conflict. Ask open-ended questions. Not yes, no. Get specific, not general. Ask for a story or example. Take out the assumptions. Follow up three times. Go deep. Don’t stay sup, superficial. Be curious like a kid. Don’t know everything. Ask about reactions. Don’t respond to them.
And ask what questions you didn’t ask. Ask what you. . Don’t think that you know everything that you should be asking and that people are saying everything. All right. I really hope that this helps you in your day. I’d love to hear about it. Comment on the podcast page on our website, and hey, do me a favor, share this with somebody who needs help with this too.
I’m sure as everyday innovators, we’re not the only ones out there trying to make an impact and to influence others and get things moving forward that need to be moved forward. Share this podcast with them so that we can all be asking the right questions so that we’re having the right conversations and not getting stuck.