Everyone likes to think they’re a good listener. The reality is that simply absorbing information or having the ability to repeat what you’ve heard isn’t always a sign of active listening. Great listeners actually “amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking,” say authors and consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman.
Two of the six best listening practices Zenger and Folkman highlight actually have to do with asking questions. They say effective listeners seek to understand what the other person is saying and ask questions to clarify assumptions that may underscore what’s being said. I’m a believer in the connectivity between active listening and intentional questioning because I’ve experienced three key benefits firsthand. I’d love to share them with you. And, yes, I’m going to ask a question at the end:
You could say I’m a lifelong learner when it comes to understanding people. My thirst for knowing others helped me hone my listening skills as I got acquainted with someone. I once had the opportunity to interview Al Roker, weather forecaster for NBC’s TODAY show.
A journalist by training, Roker couldn’t help but notice I didn’t have notes. I explained that I didn’t need notes because I was intently listening to his answers. Aggressive listening also meant I was engaged in a cooperative conversation and could ask better questions based on how he responded. Today, that same curiosity helps me ask attuned questions that bring out insightful answers.
Growing up in Georgia and later in Indiana, I wanted to know where I would fit in the world. This is true for anyone who may feel different or who is discovering their identity. For me, it continued in high school, college, and beyond. Asking questions was a helpful way to take the temperature of a new situation or group of people, process it, and act accordingly.
We do this unconsciously in our lives and at work. For instance, a smart leader alters their approach to fit the situation so their behavior is relevant to the circumstances. Great leaders focus on the good things happening in any setting. Effective questioning also allows you to get on the same page with your team so you’re making decisions cohesively and with all the intel the group possesses.
This is the most critical type of inquiry. Don’t forget to ask yourself questions. A thoughtful leader is someone who has self-awareness or the ability to see how their approach affects people around them. For example, ask yourself if your behavior reflects your values. Another question might involve personal or team achievement: “How can we win at something today?” Think of a set of questions you can ask yourself regularly that will help you abide by what’s personally important to you and your team.
You might be familiar with the quote, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Tell me what you think about my reasons for listening actively and choosing your questions carefully. I’m curious if you agree or have a rationale of your own. Of course, I’m all ears.
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