We recently spent the day crunching numbers and analyzing strategies with a consultant. I have hired this individual for 19 years at four different schools. When I first worked with him, I was a total novice in my career and he was the crash course graduate study that I needed. But now, almost two decades later, I began to ponder why I still found him to be so valuable. My conclusion: because he talks with question marks.
Bill occasionally slips in a “you should do” statement, but during the vast majority of our time together he is asking questions. We look at reports and he asks “Why?” or “What have you done to impact this?” or “What else could we do to influence this area?”. He makes me think; plus he helps my younger staff learn how to think in empirical terms. Bill asks the questions that we have to answer for ourselves, making us more cognizant of the rationale behind them and the implicit choices we are making as a result.
I have known others who talk with periods. Their manner of speech is such that it comes out as a mandate or proclamation or “must do”, and the tone can be off-putting. Deft is the leader (or teacher) who can position their thoughts as a balloon that floats out there for others to pull down for themselves vs. a mallet hitting the table.
Think about your speech (or memos or messages). Do you seek responses and allow space for others to find themselves or are you closing off thought with declarations? Peppering your messages with question marks or commas instead of periods may generate new possibilities in your relationships.
Originally published in modified form on August 3, 2012