How this 1 question helps build a team

We get caught up in conversations with others that are based on pleasantries. We ask questions, but don’t really demonstrate interest in the actual answer.

You need trust to build a team, but can’t build trust without understanding. Unfortunately, people don’t easily share their thoughts, feelings, or motivations with those outside their circle of trust. So how do you break this cycle and find out what motivates your employees without becoming too friendly?


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Ask a second question.

It sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, we are not wired to do this without practice and training. It requires active listening, empathy, and a conscious effort (at first) to make this work. It is a technique that case officers use to really get to know what “what makes people tick,” and you can’t accurately predict behavior, responses, or understand motivation without it.

All too often we get caught up in conversations with others that are based on pleasantries. We ask questions, but don’t really demonstrate interest in the actual answer.

Pay attention to your conversations tomorrow. Note when you ask a question of a colleague or employee that requires them to express feelings, likes, dislikes, or provide the reason “why” they did something. Then listen to their response and understand that you didn’t really get the answer you need.

Let me share a sample Monday morning conversation:

Boss: How was your weekend?

Employee: It was good. I went to the beach with my family.

Boss: That’s great! Hopefully you had a chance to relax.

Did you really learn anythingAll you got out of this conversation was the fact that they went to the beach with their family. You didn’t learn what they enjoyed most about the weekend. You didn’t find out if anything happened that made them happier or added stress to their lives. You missed out on an opportunity to better understand what drives your employee and build that relationship of mutual trust.

This is how I recommend that conversation should go:

Boss: How was your weekend?

Employee: It was good. I went to the beach with my family.

Boss: That’s great! What was the best part?

Employee: I really loved just getting away from everything and leaving my phone at home.

Do you see how that small change makes a difference? You asked a follow-up question that can’t be answered in a few short words, but you also asked a question that evokes thought and feelings. The answer to this question is a piece of information you really need to know in order to build a relationship and inspire employees. Express genuine interest and ask another question to gain an even deeper understanding of your employee.

I’ll save the analytics for another article, but in this situation you get a hint that your employee may be over-stressed by something at work. The need to relax (even though they were with family) and the mention of leaving the phone at home hint towards a potential work-life imbalance. Keep an eye on their performance and work-load after this conversation, and you may be able to help them before a potential issue arises.

Don’t get the answer you need after the second question? Just ask another follow-up question that starts with the word “why.” There is no easy way to duck that question with a few meaningless words and you will get something useful out of your employee.

What if you ask two follow-up questions and still don’t get a good answer? To be completely honest, this is an answer all in itself. If your employee doesn’t open up to your questions, it hints to the fact that your relationship is not strong enough and there could be some trust issues between the two of you.

If you’ve read any of my other articles, you likely see a trend. The most important thing you can do as a leader is build a team based on mutual trust. Get to know your employees, demonstrate that you care, and you will have the key to inspiring them to incredible heights.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Michael Quinn is a former Case Officer that decided to give up a “movie-worthy” career in order to become a leader and inspire others to do more.


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