DYSFUNCTIONAL QUESTIONS IN MEETINGS: BEHAVIOURS ASSOCIATED

If you’re wondering why your one-on-one meetings tend to feel unfruitful, these questions might be the culprit. Stock questions might be effective once or twice. But ask them during every one-on-one, every week, and over time, and the effectiveness of the question erodes. The person grows sick of answering the question. Or she doesn’t think you really care to know the answer anymore. Before too long, she starts looking at the clock, staring into the distance, and giving you those short, nondescript answers. To avoid this, you’ll want to avoid the routine questions you lean on.

01: “How’s it going?”

It seems like a solid way to break the ice and initiate a one-on-one meeting. Yet it’s unusual that you ever get an answer other than “Fine” or “Good” in response. While someone might truly be fine and good in reality (which is great!)… the conversation usually stops there. Anything personal you wanted to learn, any sense of rapport you wanted to create dies with the question. This is because, as a society, the question “How’s it going?” has become our automatic greeting to each other, so our answer to it has become just as automatic.

Solution: If you’re looking for a casual, open-ended way to kick off a one-on-one, ask “How’s life? It gives permission for someone to talk more personally about life — about what they did that weekend, how their family is doing, how their personal side project is coming along, how they’re managing their workload. “How’s life?” invites the other person to elaborate.

02: “What’s the latest on XXXXX ?”

It can be tempting to use your one-on-one session as time to get caught up on what is going on. However, keep in mind that this completely squanders the purpose of your one-on-one meeting, to begin with. A one-on-one meeting isn’t a reporting session. It’s not an accountability tool. A one-on-one meeting is your radar. It’s one of the only ways you have to unearth what’s actually going on in your team, and what an employee is thinking and feeling. Client problems, unforeseen issues with the product, messy team dynamics, unspoken personal frustration — this is only time you’ll get to hear that stuff.

This question “What’s the latest on X?” can be great if you’re using it to segue into asking deeper questions. For example, perhaps you follow it up with, “What’s most frustrating about how X has been going so far?” Or, “Where do you feel you need more support in working on X?” Merely asking “What’s the latest on X?” falls flat if you use it singularly.

Solution: Ask something specific about the project, instead of asking for a general project update. For example- “Can you tell me about what’s been most surprising about working on X so far?” If an employee has found something surprising, good chances that you will find it surprising too. A surprising insight is always useful for you to form an accurate picture of potential issues bubbling up within your team.

03: “How can I help you?”

The intention of this question is fantastic. You want to help, you want to get out of their way, you want to figure out what you can be doing better. However, this question is the worst way to signal that. It makes the person receiving the question do all the hard work of having to come up with the answer. It’s also a very hard question to answer, especially on-the-spot and given that you’re a person in a position of power. You are asking a person to critique you, “The Boss,” across all spectrums and come up with something actionable for you to do. If you do ask this question, answers tend to be, “Nothing I can think of right now,” something vague, or an answer that involves something that you are already doing.

Solution: Suggest something you think you can be doing to help. Then ask, “What do you think?” For example: I was thinking I’m being too hands-on on this project. Should I back off and check-in with you only bi-weekly? What do you think? By being targeted in what you suggest — and suggesting it yourself — you make it easier for that person to share the exact ways in which you can support them. You help your employees by suggesting what you think you can do to help, first.

04: “How can we improve?”

The problem with this vague question is they invite vague answers. You prompt the person to offer broad suppositions and knee-jerk assumptions, instead of exact details and practical examples. Ask an employee “How can we improve?” and they think, “Hmm, from a business development perspective? Marketing perspective? Leadership perspective? Where to even begin?”

Now, some employees you work with will be able to craft a distinct, rich answer from this question. But it is infrequent and they probably spent time thinking about the answer beforehand. For most employees who you ask this question to without any warning, you’ll receive a variant of “I think things are pretty good right now” about 90% of the time.

Solution: Focus your efforts on asking specific questions, instead of defaulting to general ones. For instance: “What do you think is the most overlooked area of the business?” or “Where do you think we’re behind in, that other companies are excelling at?” The more specific the question, the more effective they are.

In conclusion, the questions do the heavy lifting. The questions determine the path to which your one-on-one meetings will take. Ask thoughtful, sincere questions, and there’s a higher likelihood your answers returned back to you will be thoughtful and sincere too.

Content Curated By: Dr Shoury Kuttappa

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Complex quantitative concepts translated into easily understood life and business implications.

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Dr Shoury Kuttappa

Dr Shoury Kuttappa

Complex quantitative concepts translated into easily understood life and business implications.

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