Want to be a trusted leader? Ask Questions.

5369634Ramos is a leader who seems aloof and uncaring. Not about the business, for which everyone can easily see his passion and commitment. The staff who work for him, though, don’t trust that he needs them.

Another leader, Caprice, is the opposite of aloof; she is always talking with her staff. She asks about their personal lives but shares nothing about herself. Staff don’t trust her because they don’t know her well.

Two different leaders who want to increase the amount of trust others feel toward them. Both understand that trusted leaders are more effective, but they aren’t sure what to do now.

We can start by understanding that interpersonal trust is built on two important dimensions: Commonality & Consideration.

Commonality:  What we have in common. It might be a personal interest (sports), something about our lifestyle (we live in the same city) or a common goal at work (customer care). When I see that we have something in common – anything really, even our humanity – I can trust you more.

Consideration:  You are able to look past your own goals and be considerate of me. Even if we have little in common, your consideration assures me of respect and some care.  When you make a decision, or take action, I know you will consider the impact on me and my goals.

Trust increases when commonality and consideration increase. And, one of the best ways to do this is to ask more questions.

Simple? Well, questions only increase trust when they are intentionally and skillfully used to do so. These kinds of questions are more than fact-finding questions. They are a way to open a window in order to see and engage another person.  They require a level of interested curiousity. And they must be followed by a willingness to deeply listen.

It’s not easy to think about questions as a way to engage others, because many of us are taught to NOT ask questions. Some people feel rude asking direct questions. Others use questions to control conversations, look smart and win arguments. For many reasons, leaders often don’t know how to ask questions to increase trust.

Here are some tips:

  1. Ask questions when you can focus on listening. Look at the other person, or by phone, stop multi-tasking to take in their tone. Listen with interest to what you hear. Say, “Tell me more” and “Why is that?”
  2. Ask questions with an innocent and open mind. Assume the person you ask is being truthful. Your goal becomes understanding their perspective instead of getting the “right answer” or discerning the truth.
  3. Ask questions about the work the same way you ask about people’s lives. We assume people speak with a “valid voice” when they talk about their own life. At work, their experience, and the perspective they bring, is also always valid. They are the expert on their perspective. Respect what people tell you, especially if you disagree with them.
  4. Ask questions to learn. Don’t assume you know what the other person means, even if the words they use are familiar to you. Ask for more details about what they say. Ask “why” as well as how.

With coaching, Ramos began to ask curious questions to better understand his staff’s unique thoughts, feelings, opinions and ideas about the work they were doing. He also slowed his pace to really listen to answers given. Over time, he realized his dependency on others to succeed and they felt his consideration of them.

With coaching, Caprice began to ask questions about the work in the same way she asked about people’s lives – with interest and respect. She watched her tone to be serious and direct but not aggressive. She also began to invite questions from others so that they could feel common ground with her.

As you use questions in your conversations at work, you will begin to notice Commonalities. Your intentional listening with demonstrate Consideration for others. Questioning, when done skillfully, will increase the trust others have in you.

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