Questioning Your Approach – (Part 2 of a 4 Part Series)
During an exchange when the other person is being asked a question, it forces them to engage their brain and focus on the specific question or topic. This engages the pre-frontal cortex area of the brain where executive function takes place. Executive functions are the rational, reasoning, self-controlling, and self-managing functions needed to operate at a level required to make decisions and to lead others. Asking questions gives the person an opportunity to respond, as opposed to when you are making statements, especially if they perceive your statements as accusatory statements or threatening.
If you are having a tough conversation with an employee, and they start defending themselves or deflecting, they’re probably acting out of the reptilian part of the brain, known as the amygdala, located near the base of the brain and the top of the spinal cord. The amygdala is associated with emotional responses — especially fear — and it plays a role in storing memories. The unconscious mind doesn’t determine between emotional events that are happening in the current moment or one that happened twenty years ago. If an event someone is experiencing reminds them of a negative emotional event in which they were publicly embarrassed twenty years ago, you will get a negative response. This is why some people’s responses around uncomfortable conversations or conflict are not always controlled. This inability to predict how the other person will respond is one reason why many leaders will avoid having these types of conversations.
You will know you’re getting a negative response when one of two things unfold: a) the person gets defensive and pushes back aggressively (fight); or b) the person shuts down and disengages (flight). This happens when fear occurs and the person feels threatened. We will address this again in the next chapter when we discuss fear and how it shows up during coaching. For now, understand that a questioning approach is the key and accomplishes three very important things when coaching others:
- It engages the other person’s brain and, therefore, engages
them in a conversation.
- It is a critical component in getting a person to focus on a particular topic so you can get them to move toward action and then ownership and accountability of those actions.
- It increases the probability of success during your more challenging conversations because you are understanding their underlying beliefs and what is driving their behaviors instead of simply sharing your beliefs and telling them how to behave.
You have to engage a person and their brain if you want to influence them and experience any type of long-term change.
It is important to mention here that some folks, especially highly analytical ones, need more time to process before they respond. Other folks may take longer to respond depending on the perceived situation (safe or unsafe), what they are experiencing as they sit across from you, and the relationship between the two parties. Because of these factors, be sure not to rush your question process. Otherwise, they may feel like you are extracting data or performing a root canal instead of having a coaching conversation, and it will be a horrible exchange for the both of you.
Tomorrow – The A.R.T of Questioning Others – Part 3
(This is an excerpt from Joe’s Latest Book Extraordinary Results, Mastering the Art of Leading, Coaching, & Influencing Others)