Why Google is running the company on questions, not on answers

by: Robert Paul Schwippert

Often I observe managers and leaders in conversations, and to be honest… sometimes they talk a lot.  I notice the more they speak the less they listen. The less they listen the less they learn.  This is because when we give our opinion we provide our perspective, i.e. the perspective we already know. We tell it to others since we want them to understand.

Instead of telling what we already know, we could equally learn from others. We could explore the perspective of our conversation partners: To explore their needs, to see how we can connect to their ideas and to learn how we could potentially enrich our own experience and opinions through theirs.

To do this, we need to ask questions. Questions that help us to discover how the other person thinks, what they feel, what their assumptions are and why they do as they do..  

Easier said than done.  During our school years, we are taught to find the right answers, not to find the best questions.  This also applies to leadership, where asking questions is sometimes perceived as an act of vulnerability – or even a sign of ‘weak’ leadership. Often they opposite is true – being genuinely curious will help you to be a better leader. Why? Because asking questions keeps you in a learning rather than judgment mode, it keeps you focused on the bigger picture and thus will help to find better solutions.[1]

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.”

Which type of questions could help expand our views? Here are some examples:

1.     Open-ended questions which encourage dialogue and exchange of opinion, e.g. questions with what, how, what if…

2.     Appreciative questions which reflect upon the others’ qualities, e.g. what do your colleagues (your boss, your spouse) value about you?

3.     Questions to consider possibilities e.g. what conversation, if begun today, could ripple out in a way that created new possibilities for the future of (your situation)[2]?

4.     Questions to uncover unspoken beliefs, e.g. what assumptions could you be making here?

5.     Questions that help people discover their beliefs e.g. what would this bring to you?

There are many other type of questions that could bring value into our dialogues.  Try to practice by asking questions in your everyday conversations. Intelligent questions stimulate, provoke and inspire. It will take practice, just as with any other skill you cannot expect to be an expert overnight. Don't worry, ask yourself how you can get better ;)

 

[1] Why Asking Good Questions Can Help You Be a Better Leader – Cheverie, 2017

[2] The art of powerful questions – Vogt, Brown, Isaacs 2003