Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Going Underground

Learnt a great lesson in the value of how to ask a question this weekend.

Going to the British Library I asked an attendant at Kings Cross station whether he knew how to get there – he responded “Yes… but more to the point do you need me to tell you?”

It could have been very patronising thing to say if he had not followed it up quickly with “Because if you do I would be glad to help” and a booming belly laugh. We are talking BIG, a la Brian Blessed laughing in Flash Gordon big, with a broad smile.

It was a lesson in (elementary!) directive questioning and a reminder to both parties of the value of knowing what information needs to obtained. The irony was I was just recently commenting on a Linkedin forum about the best coaching/mentoring questions with my own suggestion – have a look here if you fancy taking part. Needless to say this attendant was a gentle reminder that we are all, myself included, a work in progress when it comes to such areas.

So what are some of the ways to approach such conversations so you avoid similar awkward laughter at yourself with members of the public? Here are some tips:

1. Ask a question if you want to know, not to massage your ego

Use questions as an opportunity to clarify, dig deeper, encourage your inquisitive nature – don’t use it as an means to reaffirm that you know your stuff. Put your esteem to one side, embrace the vulnerability of the unknown and get excited that you are about to pick up something new.

2. Never compromise yourself by not asking a question

I see this all the time at events where you have people judging others on the quality of questions being asked – do not allow this to affect you, more than likely there are 5 other people in the room who want to know. Sure the presenter will also appreciate your interest in what they are saying to boot!

Added to this I think coaches or mentors can shy away from asking a question for fear of offending the client or being misunderstood. Remember – when you are talking you learn nothing new about the situation or that of the client’s you are dealing with. View it as an opportunity to get nearer to the result you both want. If noting else the person concerned should want this above all else and if they know you are sincere in what you are asking will be receptive.

3. “No matter where you are in life, there is always more journey ahead of you”

Thank you to Nelson Mandela for the above, which neatly articulates the folly of giving in to fears and not asking questions as we go through life, let alone when chances for learning and development present themselves. In accepting the above statement I find I have more freedom and believe in the value of my questions, knowing that however much the answers to my questions move me further along there is still (depending on life expectancy of course!) more of the same ahead of me.

So welcome the uncertainty, enjoy searching for the knowledge. And if lost at Kings Cross you know which one of the London Underground attendants will direct you to the right place.

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