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One question can change your life.

Especially now, in a time of almost purely virtual connection, it’s harder than ever to prioritize authentic connection with the people in your life. Misunderstanding is more common, relatability is more strained, and it’s harder than ever to really get a read on who’s on the other end of what you’re communicating.

In most strained situations or Zoom calls, our communication instinct is to speak more and to project MORE, or to withdraw. That instinct is made more extreme in virtual settings. Whether it’s your first day in a new job or your 92nd meeting with a team about the big project you’ve been working on, confusion and misunderstanding can lead to agitation and frustration, minus the compassion and empathy that come far more naturally in in-person settings.

The solution to up-level your way of leading and communicating is found in the power of questions. Asking good questions — coming from a place of inquiry — allows you to be more genuine and counter the instinct to perform. It allows you to investigate and to learn. It allows you to be seen as collaborative and not confrontational.

Starting with a question means you talk less, create less noise, and find more common ground. Listening to the answers gives you a lot of data — about how you’re perceived, about where you’re misunderstood, about what someone else’s motivations or assumptions are.

Forcing yourself to start with a question is a way to short-circuit the disconnection so many of us feel in this weird, challenging time. It forces a more collaborative communication approach, and it disciplines us to really stop and listen and try to understand our own behavior and our own motivations first.

So, start with a good question.

Here are three questions that you can start by asking yourself in hard situations:

  1. What do I want in this situation? What’s my ideal outcome? Am I avoiding?
  2. What words would the other person use to describe me based on how I’ve been speaking or acting toward them?
  3. What could I say or do to show the other person that I’m being respectful toward them? To make them feel heard?

Here are three questions you can ask others in challenging situations:

  1. How can I help you do the best work of your life here? (Manager to team member) OR How could you help me to do the best work of my life here? (Team member to manager)
  2. What am I missing or where am I on the wrong track here?
  3. What is one thing you like about this situation and what is one thing that would make it even better?

(Thanks to my friend Chip Conley for the first question on this list — one of my favorites.) There are lots of good resources for up-leveling your questions game. One of the best I’ve seen is Change your Questions, Change your Life by Marilee Adams.

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