Monday, April 27, 2015

The Question That Got Away

“No one is asking the hard questions that need to be asked,” said the person I was speaking to in a recent conversation.  To put this in context, we had just come from a meeting that included the leadership of the organization.  I immediately answered, “You are right”, then I stopped for a moment and thought about it.  I responded honestly, even though no reflection had occurred on the comment yet. As I thought about it, both after my response and over night, that statement really rang true.  In his context, in other parts of our conversation, in more general terms, do we really ask the hard questions?

In fact, good questions are extremely important.  John C Maxwell wrote an entire book on the subject entitled, “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership.” In the book, he points out that the correct questions are sometimes the hard ones that bring forth thoughtful answers.  In a similar vein, Anthony Robbins said, “Quality questions create a quality life.  Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”  In project management, it is critical to ask the questions that make the recipients of the project think through what they are looking for.  Conversely, if implementing a vendor-based solution / product, the entire team needs to formulate the right questions to get good answers.  Poor questions can lead to weak answers, which provide no solutions.

For the most part, I find that people do not necessarily ask good questions.  I remember that when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, one of her doctors pulled us aside and told us that patients that are in advanced stages of cancer (like my mother) will only ask questions when they are willing to hear the answers.  By extension, does this mean that we are afraid of the potential answers so we do not ask the question?  I have sat in meetings where the important question is the 800-pound gorilla sitting with us at the table and no one asks the related hard question.  Sometimes, I am sure that the people running the meeting, by design, avoid asking the question.

At times, we seem to draw circles around ourselves that represent our comfort zone.  Could it be that we feel that the right question will take us outside of the circles we have drawn around us?  If we do ask the hard question, which makes us uncomfortable, it can lead to questioning other things.  While we harbor the fear of opening Pandora’s Box, by avoiding the questions that we need to ask we run the risk of not finding the proper solutions.  John C Maxwell states it simply enough, “The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.”

Resolution: We need to “man up” and ask the tough questions, no matter the answers.  Avoiding the question does not make it go away, and in some cases, by not addressing the situation it can make the issue gets worse.  There are occasions where we worry so much and once the hard question is asked, the result is not as bad as we think it is.  Brian Tracy, in “Eat that Frog,” likens our issues, problems, or tasks as frogs, and the order in which we should prioritize them.  Brian Tracy based that phrase on the comment by Mark Twain, “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.”

How do you address the 800-pound gorilla?