The other day I heard a story about a mom that had decided to go back to school to get her Masters Degree to further her career. She was in the middle of exams and before she started studying, she told her 5-year old, “Mommy has to go study now so that I can do well on my test. Can you promise me that you will not interrupt me and go and ask Daddy if you need any help with anything, alright?” The child nodded in understanding and promised her mom that she would do so. After several hours, the child entered the room, “Hey mommy!” The mom snapped at her child, “Didn’t I tell you to not interrupt me? I’m really need to study! Please go and play with your daddy!” The child left and several hours later the mother emerged from studying only to be confronted by her husband. “Why did you yell at our kid? I sent her in there to say goodnight to you and see if you wanted some coffee to stay awake while you studied!”
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had a similar reaction to your kids. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably also reacted similarly to a co-worker or an individual you manage. A quote by Edgar Schein recently jumped out at me when he said, “We are biased toward telling instead of asking because we live in a pragmatic, problem-solving culture in which knowing things and telling others what we know is valued.” We don’t have to look too far or hard to see what Schein is saying. Our bosses tell us what to do, our family and friends tell us what they would do in our particular situation, and each “expert” has an answer for us at the tip of their tongue.
We’re thirsty to dispense of our knowledge and wary to step back and ask a question. If we find ourselves in the position of not knowing, we agonize over having to ask the question for fear of being seen as weak. When did asking questions become a sign of weakness?
We have prioritized accomplishing tasks over building relationships. For just a moment, think about your company’s culture. Are you encouraged to put your head down and complete the tasks on your desk to finish that end product? Or are you encouraged to ask questions of your colleagues to further build relationships, which can lead to better products in the end? Recently, I was putting together a plan to facilitate a conversation with a group and realized that there were some dynamics of the group that I didn’t fully understand how to overcome to ensure the most successful conversation. Instead of putting my head down and trying to accomplish the task on my own, I turned to some colleagues of mine with specific knowledge around those types of dynamics. I knew that these colleagues had these experiences because of the relationship that we have built and knew that if I came to them with questions they would be more then wiling to help.
What about for you? What would happen if you took the time to ask a question instead of resorting to telling?