Hands up, how many times when someone is talking to you are you waiting for them to finish so that you can immediately respond? Welcome to the way most conversations work…

Sometimes it’s just hard not to jump in on the last bit of what someone is saying as we are so keen to talk next – it feels like being in a queue and craning your neck to see when it’s your turn.

Added to this is small talk. These well-intended but often dull daily interactions, usually just lead us into an awkward dead-end. We ask the same questions, offer the same tried and tested ‘safe’ responses and feel like we are having the same conversation on repeat (we usually are!). 

Whether it’s a lack of listening, too many opinions, or the same questions on autopilot, it’s easy to see why so many of our conversations end up feeling transactional or like we can’t shift it into another gear.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

What’s the one question game-changer? 

There’s one type of question that all brilliant leaders (and humans!) ask. It might seem impossible but this one thing changes EVERYTHING when it comes to conversation, gathering insight and relationship building.    

They ask open questions. 

What is an open question?

Not to go back to basics here but it seems that there’s a lot of people out there who still haven’t got the memo on open-ended questions, so humour us! 

Open-ended questions are questions that allow someone to give a free-form answer. Closed-ended questions can only be answered with “Yes” or “No,” or they have a limited set of possible answers (such as: A, B, C etc).

Open questions ask people ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘describe’, ‘tell me more’ and the response is like entering a goldmine. The information, feelings, opinions and insight that are unearthed in the responses glitter like gold, and should be treated as such. 

It’s blindingly obvious when you look at the questions below and imagine a response. Test them out yourself, we dare you!

  • How are you feeling about what you’ve got coming up? Vs Are you happy about what you’ve got coming up?
  • Tell me how the last six months have been for you? Vs Did you have a good first half of the year?
  • What is it that you really love doing in your role? Vs Do you like your role?
  • What did you do on the weekend? Vs Did you have a good weekend?

Why is it an uber important leadership skill?

Asking open-ended questions delivers a ton of benefits, here are just a few:

  • As humans, generally we like to talk about ourselves! We have our life narrative down to a T – it’s our script that we’ve written. Once we are encouraged to talk about ourselves and our feelings, we feel we can do so freely and be authentic. Leaders who encourage this culture have happier teams.
  • Leaders who ask open questions get daily insights about their people.  What people are good at, why their performance may not always be on the up, where they see their next progression, why they are better at responding to emails than verbal requests and thousands more. 
  • Open questions build rapport, encourage ideas, create trust and help people to navigate challenges more easily. If you create a culture where  people feel listened to, understood and valued, they will feel motivated, appreciated and purposeful. 

While your competitors are scratching their heads around the amount of exit interviews they are processing (and what they’re discovering in them!), as a leader, if you start creating a culture of open questions, you’ll be one hundred steps ahead of them and enjoying a happy and empowered team.