Although Bacon once said, “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom“, I’ve found an increasing tendency in business to allow forceful and unstructured extroversion to loudly and clumsily persist and thrive. Unfortunately, we live in a world where noise is often confused with progress, success or intelligence. In my opinion, it’s the introverts who have it all figured out, for it’s within those quiet in-between times that the sparks of insight can truly catch flame.
This is why I so truly admire the brilliance of a well-placed question.
A few words in length, the seven base queries below – obvious in retrospect – have resulted in hours of honest and unfettered discussion. Regardless of your role, domain, market or audience, these may just reinforce your own power of quiet observation:
Q1) “What does success look like?”
This is a wonderful conversation starter, particularly in a group setting. It’s open ended enough to allow each participant to make it their own, often building on the prior respondent. More importantly, it casts the mind forward to a time when the notion of “better” may truly come to life.
Q2) “What scares you?”
Fear – more specifically, unspoken fear – can be the archenemy of progress. The key is to pause through the uncomfortable silence that follows this question, so wait patiently until someone breaks the verbal logjam. The one-two punch of success and fear will provide the channel through which all must carefully navigate.
Q3) “Is ‘do nothing’ an option?”
Although tricky, this can be quite effective. Sometimes you’ll receive a raised eyebrow that asks, “Are you serious?? Of course not!” But in patiently waiting one can typically capture the source of the emotional exhaustion that comes from the unending current state.
Q4) “What are the inhibitors to success?”
Barriers may exist at every turn. Whether dollars, naysayers, technology or the inherent resistance to change, culling out the roadblocks one will encounter on the journey offers you a fighting chance at a real breakthrough. This is a great question to pose one-on-one to each key stakeholder.
Q5) “How are decisions made?”
With a concise understanding of the cultural, personal and communicative nuances you can begin to define what needs to be captured, cultivated and conveyed on the road to success. Although perhaps more process oriented than the others, this prepares one for the possibility of a multitude of check points, socialization sessions and stakeholder reviews.
Q6) “What is the deadline?”
At this point in the conversation, a question like this often draws a sly smile with a single word, “Yesterday.” “But seriously…” follows with a clear and concise timeline (if one should exist). Whether aspirational or explicit, an understanding of when one is expected to attain the future vision is paramount to success.
Q7) “How can I/we help?”
This is your closer. After everything else has been put on the table, the notion of help can be incredibly comforting. Moreover, this is when assignments are doled out and next steps are memorialized, so ensure your expected outcomes are clearly defined and captured for follow-up.
I’d encourage you to try all or some of these the next time you enter into an internal or external conversation. A word of caution – try desperately to avoid the draw of ego-centric connective tissue during this process. In other words, when moments arise where you can obviously “sell” yourself or your value proposition, fight the urge to do so. Your job at this stage is to take copious notes and listen, pure and simple.
Brilliance often lives in the space between simplicity and silence so why not embrace them both. And once you do, come back and share your story so we can collectively learn from your experience. I look forward to your thoughts.