• Friedhelm Boschert

Stop talking so much - ask the right questions!

Aktualisiert: 4. Feb 2019



"It is simply asking the right questions, ... which really solves problems, which moves things forward," Prof Edgar Schein, MIT, sums up. And a recent survey comes to the conclusion: "Asking the right questions ... increases the employees' satisfaction and motivation. And thus, engagement and commitment," Prof. Van der Quaquebeke from Kühne University in Hamburg says. High time, then, to deal with the "gentle art of asking" ... more


This is actually remarkable! He ranks among the greatest scientists in his field, influenced an entire generation with his ideas for management culture and process consulting, advised hundreds of organisations during his professional life – Edgar Schein, professor emeritus for Management at MIT. In order to record the following at the age of 83 in a slim booklet entitled "Humble Inquiry" as essence of his expertise: "But all my teaching and consulting experience convinced me that it is simply asking the right questions, which really creates relationship between people, which really solves problems, which really moves things forward."Leaders, in particular, still have to learn this, he adds. Actually, the art of how to ask questions in an unbiased, modest and humble manner - instead of talking constantly.


Talking, talking, talking - and employees lose interest.

Well, especially in organisations, we really live in a culture of talking incessantly. Managers must be active, dominant, must show the way - therefore, many bosses see themselves encouraged to talk continuously. They even talk more than their employees during staff appraisal interviews. They talk and talk as if they were obsessed by "the devil of silence", who would push them into deep unimportance after only one second of saying nothing. And? What can be false when talking? - you will probably argue spontaneously now.

"Are you aware that in this way, you disregard me and all your staff," I once asked my (chatty) boss. He answered angrily that there must be someone to tell where to go, and remaining silent and asking questions would not be the right way. Oh, really? Being careful not to show weakness - that was his motto. His employees also learned this strategy very fast. And, logically, in such a climate, "talking without prejudice", open communication, honest feedback was not appropriate at all. With all negative consequences with respect to transparency and risk and above all to the staff's motivation.


Increasing motivation by asking questions

The bosses actually "…ruin themselves the opportunity to develop their personnel to become independent key players," Prof. Van der Quaquebeke summarises. In a survey published in the Academy of Management Review in July 2016, he reviewed the issue, why leaders, who ask questions more frequently, can count on more committed staff. „Firstly, asking the right questions helps me to enhance relationshiptowards other persons. Secondly, I communicate to my conversation partners that I feel them being competentto answer my questions. And thirdly, I grant themautonomy, by assigning them to give and weigh up their answers. If these three psychological needs are fulfilled, the employees' satisfaction and motivation will increase. And thus, engagement and commitment." Van der Quaquebeke says in the interview.


Asking the r i g h t questionsbut how?

Sounds great! Simply asking questions and off we go. This cannot be so difficult, some well-disposed readers will now be about to say to themselves. But be careful. It isn't as simple as most people think. Edgar Schein speaks about "The Gentle Art of Asking") not without any reason. Since only asking the rightquestions creates the necessary quality in relationships. And, as you might already have guessed - this is where mindfulness comes into play: there is always the mindful solutionas well!

As the right technique for asking questions is open, curious; it doesn't anticipate the answer yet, it doesn't control, it isn't embarrassing, it is fed by genuine interest. In short: asking the right questions means inquiring in an unbiased way! In order to manage this, the persons asking the questions have to be aware of their possible bias as a first step. This is actually the most difficult part - the honest self-reflection: Why do I ask the question? How do I think about this person? Do I think to know the answer yet? Do I want to get a specific answer? What do I want to express with my question?


Through the beginner's eyes

When you are once aware of this, the mindfulness principle"Considering through the beginner's eyes" provides further evidence. Be open and curious. Be interested in the persons and not so much in the answer. And the other persons will immediately feel that you accept them, that you are really interested in what they intend to say.

Avoid rhetoric questions: How are you? Avoid embarrassing questions: You will finalise this in time, won't you? Avoid control questions: Will you keep the scheduled deadline? Ask open questions: What are you doing right now? What do you mean by that? Tell me more about that! How are you coping with the project? The bestquestion is asked, if bothparties are surprised by the answer.


Observe your reaction, while you are listening. Don't push your conversation partners into a specific direction! Do you only want to get your position confirmed? Only if you don't give instructions, push into a direction, control, only pretend interest, assess the question immediately - only then a climate will emerge, where "communication without prejudice" will be possible and a new quality of relationship will be created. And this is, what you want, isn't it?


#Mindfulness helps you to observe yourself. Even while asking and while listening as well. It is as if you are watching yourself from the perspective of a third person. Mindful Coaching works in the same way: I am always aware of my attitude, my assessments, my role. I am present and create opportunities for innovations.


Make a start right now!


With kindest regards,

Friedhelm Boschert

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Dr. Friedhelm Boschert

Martinstrasse 143

3400 Klosterneuburg

Tel. 0043/664/8163003

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© 2018 by Friedhelm Boschert

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