Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Responding to UN-answerable Questions

Keep your cool, then look them in the eye and proceed like this…

Most leaders like the influence they have. They want to use it to help others. But we are the ones people run to when they have tough questions. During our global health event, people are becoming more and more stressed. They need more clarity, more direction, and they want less anxiety. Managing a team during these times is especially challenging.

Inevitably unanswerable questions are going to come. What do you do? Thankfully Harvard Business Review gave some good direction recently.

  1. Admit vulnerability by saying “I don’t have that answer.” Yes you’re a leader. You are also a human being with feelings and emotions. You must acknowledge to yourself and to others that these questions give you anxiety too. By admitting that you are much less likely to channel negative emotions and defensive feelings in your answer.
  2. Dig deeper about the question. Many times people ask questions that have underlying, deeper concern. Try to listen for these deeper questions so you can answer honestly and completely. “I think the real question that many people are asking is not just is our company going to lay some people off, but am I going to lose my job?”
  3. After giving your best answer, ask them a question. Asking good, insightful questions like a professional coach often leads to self-discovery! I love my coaching clients in larger corporations. These people are sharp and they know far more than I do about their work. But I get to help them learn about themselves—how they think, how they see others, and how they are perceived. Ask “What are you learning about yourself as a result of this pandemic?” “What do think is the best way we can help others?” Lead them on a journey of self-discovery.
  4. Be extra kind. Yes it’s important to be genuine and honest, but put extra effort into caring about the person you are answering. Show great empathy. People are more anxious and sensitive during these times; you can be a comforting friend.

What if you really blow it? Admit it, and that you are going to learn from it. “I don’t know the answer, and I’m afraid that my response wasn’t helpful. I’m truly sorry about that. What should I do to be more helpful next time?”

What were the toughest questions you’ve had to answer recently? Let me know at rob@leadertribe.comand I’d love to help where I can.


Dr. Rob

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