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Questions Instead of Answers
by Marnie Green

Powerful and purposeful questions are an integral part of engaging employees in conversations about issues you can't solve on your own. You can't do it all yourself. As a manager, the input of your employees is vital to your ability to innovate, create, and in this current environment, survive. When an employee hits you with resistance to a change, try responding with this simple format:

Paraphrase - restate what the employee has expressed

Frame - establish any sideboards (see November E-Tip) that may relate to the issue

Open-ended Question with a Plural Noun - invite the employee into the conversation

When an employee questions a new process or approach, let them know you have heard their concern, remind them of the constraints the organization is facing, and then respond with your own inviting question. Here are a few examples of how questions can be used to stoke the fires of creativity with your employees.

Employee to Manager: "There are so many changes going on right now. I don't see how you can expect us to keep up with all the work we are facing."

Manager to Employee:
(paraphrase) "So you are concerned about keeping up with the increasing workload...
(frame) As we both know, change is constant in our industry. Our resources are shrinking while demand from our customers continues to grow.
(open-ended question with a plural noun) What options do we have as a work unit to adjust to our shifting priorities?"

Employee to Manager: "I just don't know how you think I'm going to meet these goals, considering the lack of support I've been receiving from the folks in purchasing."

Manager to Employee:
(paraphrase) "Our department's relationship with the purchasing function can be a challenge to meeting our objectives.
(frame) That hurdle doesn't change the fact that we are all expected to meet our quarterly goals.
(open-ended question with a plural noun) What ideas do you have for building a stronger relationship with purchasing so that you can more effectively get your work completed on time?"

Employee to Manager: "It just seems like we continue to work hard but the results are not as good as they used to be. It's frustrating because we are not producing as much as we did last year but we're working just as hard."

Manager to Employee:
(paraphrase) "The current business climate has made our work more difficult.
(frame) We cannot continue to use the same old methods and expect them to produce the same results in the future.
(open-ended question with a plural noun) What new strategies might we consider to boost our effectiveness?"

In this era of uncertainty, employees want to know that they are being heard and they want to contribute. Your response to their concerns and your openness to their ideas will determine just how engaged they decide to be.

About the Author

Marnie E. Green is Principal Consultant of the Chandler, AZ-based Management Education Group, Inc. Green is a speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations develop confident leaders. Contact Green at phone: 480-705-9394 email: web site:



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