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Just Ask and Listen
by Marnie Green

One of the most effective ways you can improve your skills is to consciously seek input from employees. When you know what they are thinking (about projects, about the organization, about their coworkers) you'll be better able to help them excel on the job. For example, when you know an employee is not in support of a policy change you are about to make, you can use this knowledge to better craft your message so that you can win the support of the employee.

Asking questions is one of the most powerful skills you can master as a leader. When you ask the right question and wait for the answer, you gain useful information that you can consider as you go about your daily work.

Here's a challenge:
Spend at least three minutes each day in a conversation with an employee where you only ask questions and then just listen. Don't interject. Don't interrupt. Don't share your perspective. Just ask and listen.

If you are asking open-ended, thought provoking questions, you are likely to leave the conversation with more information than you started with and you will have enhanced goodwill between you and the other person. We all want to be listened to.

If you are wondering where to start, try asking these two simple questions:

1. How do you feel? This is a great question to start with because you can tailor it to the person and the situation. For example, "How do you feel about the new process for managing the budget? How do you feel about the new organizational structure? How do you feel the project is coming along?" Just start by asking how they feel.

2. What do you need? By asking what the employee needs, it opens the dialogue to possibilities. This easy question can also be adapted to any situation. For example, "What do you need to complete this task on time? What do you need to feel comfortable with our approach? What do you need to be satisfied with the outcome?" Seeking input about what the other person needs allows you to learn about how you can help while letting them know that you have an interest in their success.

So, give it a try. Just three minutes a day of asking only questions. I guarantee that you will see immediate results.

Marnie Green may be contacted at
Marnie E. Green is Principal Consultant of the Arizona-based Management Education Group, Inc. She is the author of Painless Performance Evaluations: A Practical Approach to Managing Day to Day Employee Performance (Pearson/Prentice Hall). Green is a speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations develop leaders today for the workforce of tomorrow. Contact Green at


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