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The Number One Question All Leaders Should Be Asking

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Questions are the greatest way to express curiosity, and to actually get to know somebody. As an educator, a father, neurolinguistic programmer, and media specialist, I know how powerful communication can be.

Communications power is the ability to get to know someone. To build rapport and to work out if we are in the same tribe, speaking the same language. We only understand 7% of verbal communication. 38% is our voice and tone. 55% is body language. So when we message or email someone, we are barely communicating. If we are not careful face to face communication can be just as ineffective.

In our work and everyday life we will often be called upon to conduct an interview. This might be in a formal way, such as a manager with a potential new employee, or informally as a parent meeting a son or daughter’s new partner. Sometimes this might be free style, to see where the conversation takes us, and other times we might use our organisations set list of questions.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” – James Humes

Ineffective communication and questioning

The problem is, the questions are often boring, ineffective, or not relevant. Or they have been asked so many times before, the interviewee reels off a pre-prepared answer, which blurs in the mind of the interviewer with every other candidate she/he has spoken to that day.

Questions like: What is your greatest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years? Or perhaps the worst of all, “tell me about yourself?” Why is that last one so toxic? Well what do you think they will answer?

Not only will they be reciting a familiar response, but it will also be a mix of what they think you want to hear, and their own made up story of themselves. It is natural to do this, as it is our own perception of ourselves, and mind-reading of what others think of us. Left to our own devices we can be influenced by ego, humility, self-limiting beliefs, and imposter syndrome.

Effective communication and questioning

If we want to really uncover more about the person we are speaking to, we should try this: “Tell me about the world?”Why is that so powerful? Well, to quote the Marvel film Dr Strange, “you’re a man looking at the world, through a keyhole.”

How we view the world is a reflection of ourselves. It may include what we perceive as opportunities and threats, perhaps biases and our overall outlook on life. Is the person we are speaking to open-minded, have an insight on where the world is heading, are they success-minded optimists, or negative and ignorant, with a tendency to blame others?

Are they literal, “it’s a planet orbiting the sun”, or romantic, “it’s a wonderful place full of inspirational people with the capacity to create amazing things, but too often negativity and hate clouds our potential.” Did they focus on the country they live in? A particular subject? Their own family?

“Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.” – Nat Turner

It is a much more interesting question, and one that few people are asked. They may request clarity, because it is so open and you may be guiding them in to uncharted waters. Every person will answer in a different way, and it will usually provide a much deeper insight as to who they really are.

Not only is this great for interviews, but it can also be a way to break out of small talk. When two people meet it can be visualized as a Venn diagram. Sure, we will probably have some overlap whether that is sports, where we work, parents, gaming, or religion. And the tendency will be to stick to those topics.

But isn’t the real fun in the areas we don’t overlap on? The problem is we often don’t know what questions to ask about it, because we don’t know what you don’t know. This question is a great way of exploring new territory. So, tell me about the world?

Darren Horne is an educator and consultant focusing on leadership and communications. He is an author of an award winning book, a Neuro Linguistic Programming Practitioner, on the board of trustees for an alcohol and addiction charity, and has been interviewed globally. His mission is to help a million people be a little happier. Darren also owns a martial arts studio focusing on mindfulness, emotional intelligence and life performance. You can find him on Facebook, and www.darrenhorne.com.

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