You see something that needs attention. You go to the person on your team that you think should address it or you suspect is about to. And you know exactly what they should do. You're about to tell them ... and then you stop. You remember that training program you went to. Or that leadership book you read. You're supposed to be asking questions, you think to yourself. That's the secret to being a better leader, developing people, and greater collaboration, right? So you shift your tactic and ask a question instead. It might sound like this:
"Hey, do you think we should respond to that customer today to remind them of our process for dealing with that type of issue....?
You end up asking a question that isn't one. It's your opinion, or your direction, masquerading (barely) as a question. Let's call it a Quinion. And Quinions are bad. Why so bad, you ask?
What if I told you that Quinions make you seem less vulnerable and transparent as a leader, slow the team down, hinder collaboration, and degrade trust (and fancy-sounding things like psychological safety)?
Here's why Quinions are problematic and why you should avoid them and help your friends avoid them too:
- Quinions demonstrate invulnerability. What is riskier, asking a question you know the answer to or giving an opinion that others might disagree with? Or that might lead to an uncomfortable conversation? Real vulnerability leaves open the possibility of discomfort and being imperfect. Quinions are a way to keep your armor up.
- Quinions are inefficient. If something needs to get done, and there isn't a genuine question about what's required, there's no sin in being directive. The sin is when you're always directive. The cure for that is to use your one-on-ones and other informal places to ask those incredibly high-value open-ended questions.
- Quinions degrade trust. There's nothing easier to do, especially as a manager, than to give your team the feeling that you don't trust them or are somehow hiding the ball. You've been on the receiving end of a question that isn't one, and how easily it can feel like micromanagement or passive-aggressiveness.
Like almost all behaviors, asking Quinions starts from a positive intent, at least at the conscious level. You're trying to bring people along. You're trying to be collaborative. You don't want to come across as having all the answers. But you have to go beyond the intent to see the impact on others and your growth.
What's below the surface of a Quinion is some form of fear, anxiety, or a need for control or certainty. Said another way, it's a way to manage people or around them instead of working with them. It's a way to avoid having to feel an uncomfortable feeling. And when you, especially if you're a leader, but it goes for everyone, don't own what you're feeling, then you will transact that feeling in your communication. It's magical thinking to believe you won't.
A culture of managing around people is not the one you want to foster or that anyone wants to be a part of. You want to work somewhere where things are not so tightly controlled, where people are as willing to be right as they are willing to be wrong. That's a culture of courage.
So the next time you catch yourself asking a Quinion. Stop. Remember that leadership article you read that said don't ask a question when what you are doing is trying to give an opinion or clarify a direction. It might sound like this:
"Hey, I asked you a question earlier over Slack, but it wasn't really a question. Sorry about that. I'm happy to debate it if you see it differently, but here's what I think you should do."
That's vulnerability at work.
It's not my way or the highway.
But it's not a culture of niceness that isn't real.
It's everyone in the organization showing up with their imperfect self, taking the risk to say what they mean, and trusting that everyone is adult enough to accept that some things at work you get to have an opinion on and some things you don't.
You don't want to work anywhere else.