Have you ever thought of yourself as a detective? Sherlock Holmes is a well loved fictional character known as a mastermind, observing details unnoticed by the untrained eye. What about an explorer? Marco Polo is famous for exploring China and Asia in the late 1200s, discovering practices of the unknown culture. As a leader, you may not see yourself as an adventurer like Holmes or Polo, but every day you have the opportunity to discover important details through empowering conversations.
It is natural to be geared toward solutions and coming up with answers as quickly as possible. However, this often results in solving the wrong problem. This also does not promote deep learning, the kind necessary for sustained change. By engaging in three elements of empowering conversation, you possess the keys to discovery.
Frame problems positively. View them as opportunities to be creative and innovate, not as a threats. Take time to pause and prepare yourself to enter the discovery zone. You and your team have the option to consider new possibilities for the future rather than redesign old versions of the past. Being curious is a great way to elevate energy and mood within your team. James 1:5 states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV). Have confidence that God will provide the answers you need.
Ask, don’t tell. When facing a challenge, it can be tempting to issue directives. Certainly there are times when it is necessary to make direct statements, such as during a performance evaluation or establishing behavioral boundaries. However, empowering conversations are excellent for developing appropriate attitudes and beliefs, skills, and behavioral practices. An important part of empowering conversations is asking open ended questions. By asking questions, you assist followers in processing ideas and formulating answers. Powerful questions include: “What are we trying to accomplish?” “How else can we think about this?” “What can we learn from this situation?” Consider using double-click questions to encourage conversation. “Tell me more.” “Give me an example of that.” Even when you have a good plan, ask permission to share. “I have an idea. Would you like to hear it?”
Listen to understand. Asking is important; listening is its twin. Effective communication involves active listening–paying full attention to what is said and being fully engaged. Resist the urge to jump in with opinions and advice. Do not assume that you know what is going on. Rather, hear where your followers are coming from; zero in on their experiences and ideas.
When you are communicating with God in prayer, what is He doing most of the time? Is he constantly talking, filling every moment with sage advice and cosmic ideas? Or is He mostly listening? God, who knows our every need before we ask and the answers to all our problems, takes the time to listen to each one of us. To listen is to imitate God.1
Wise instruction comes from James 1:19. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (NIV). Listening is foundational to understanding. Leaders must be excellent listeners in order to facilitate discovery for growth and change.
1 Tony Stoltzfus, Leadership Coaching (Virginia Beach: Author, 2005), 147.