Creating A Positive Work Culture: Why you need to ask instead of tell

My colleagues Chris Edmonds and Lisa Zigarmi have written a new book called Positivity at Work.  The book is chock-full of 140 ideas for creating a more positive work culture. They obviously both have a lot to say on the subject but you’d experience something completely different if you spoke to either of them in person about improving your own work culture.

Instead of telling you everything they knew about creating an energizing work environment, you’d be surprised by how many questions they would ask instead. There are a couple of key reasons for this and some best practices for anyone looking to help others improve.

Don’t assume you “know.” It’s easy, especially when you are an expert, to only half-hear what others are saying on a subject you’ve studied.   Your brain’s ability to match up what you are hearing and connecting it with past information can get in the way of really listening.  Experts have the hardest time hearing things and seeing them with fresh eyes.  It’s a condition called educated incompetence and you have to be on your guard and listen especially close or you’ll miss things while you’re processing and making connections.

Find out “why.”  Make sure that you have a complete understanding of what people are telling you.  Do you understand the nuances of what they are saying and why they feel the way they do?  Is there any part of their thinking that you still have questions about?  Be sure to ask.

Listen with the intent of being influenced.  This can be the biggest challenge for an accomplished consultant.  So much value is placed on the ability to assess a situation quickly and figure out what’s wrong.  This is a very useful skill in many situations but not so good when you are trying to understand someone else’s experience.  Instead of driving for closure, look for possibilities.  How does their position make sense?  Under what conditions could their recommendation work?

A case in point

If you keep yourself open, you might be surprised at what you learn.  Early in his career, Ken Blanchard did some consulting work with a manufacturing company that was having a problem with employee retention.  Every summer, employee turnover would spike and cause a major upheaval as the company struggled to find qualified people to replace those who were leaving.  Blanchard was brought in to get to the bottom of the problem.

After meeting with the executives, Blanchard asked if he could tour the plant.  His intention was to discuss the problem with people on the shop floor to see what was happening.

The executives were confused.  “Why do you want to talk to them—they’re the ones that are leaving.  Besides, we told you what the problem was.”

Blanchard insisted on touring the facility just to double-check some of the assumptions.  He conducted several interviews and started to hear the same thing over and over again.

  • “It’s too hot in here during the summer.”
  • “The heat is just unbearable.”
  • “The air conditioning is useless.”

The biggest culprit causing turnover in this plant was the physical working conditions.  Employees on the floor knew it, but management didn’t have a clue.

Do you really know what’s going on with your people?  Take a second to double-check this week.  It never hurts to ask a few questions.  You might be surprised at what you find out.

6 thoughts on “Creating A Positive Work Culture: Why you need to ask instead of tell

  1. Very good article. All too often, it is easy to want to jump right in a solve an issue when that may not be the actual problem. Book marking this one.

  2. Great post! I agree that the secret to an organization’s success lies in the engagement of it’s team. I look forward to checking out the book referral.

  3. “Listen with the intent of being influenced” – what a great quote. Not everyone listens, and even fewer, listen with the intent of being influenced. I have always felt that when you interact with someone, the simple act of taking notes has many benefits. One of the most important being – their points are important enough to you to be written down; their points are worth remembering.
    In other words, you are being influenced by what they say….

  4. Ib4m sorry, there must be something that evaeds my understading here. What are Millennials? Itb4s a very interesting article, potentially . . .

  5. “Creating A Positive Work Culture: Why you need to ask instead of tell | Blanchard LeaderChat” johnfowlesthetree.
    com was indeed a good post. In case it included alot more pictures this would certainly be perhaps even much better.
    Thanks -Jude

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