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When a Clarifying Question Isn’t

When a Clarifying Question Isn’t

Recently an area director for a non-profit asked me if I would do a Malama session for a work team that was struggling to communicate with each other. He valued everyone on the team individually, however he could see that together they were not very effective.

Malama is the value of caring, compassion, and stewardship I speak of in Managing with Aloha. In a Malama session, we ‘talk story’ within a defined coaching process, with the goal of clarifying the root cause of workplace issues (Note: Mālama is the correct form of the word, however I will not use the macron over the first ‘a’ here for best publishing in all readers.)

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It didn’t take long to see that many individuals in this particular team had felt they weren’t being heard for quite some time. They’d had enough, and now their conversations had turned to dumping; they frequently interrupted each other, would have more than one conversation at a time, and disrespectful body language was unfortunately the norm. There wasn’t that much listening going on. Prime candidates for the Daily 5 Minutes®. (More on that here if you are hearing of the D5M® for the first time.)

At one point during the Malama, a supervisor stated in frustration to his boss, “What you think of as a question is just another interruption, why don’t you ever let me finish?”

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His boss’s response was, “You’re not being clear, and I’m struggling to understand you. My questions are clarifying questions so I can get what you’re saying.”

Sounds reasonable, but that isn’t what had been happening; the boss was interrupting because his patience was getting the best of him. It could be that the answer to his clarifying question would have come in pretty short order if it had remained unspoken, however the supervisor was never able to get that far. The good intention of a clarifying question was instead perceived as a rude, impatient, “just get to the point” interruption.

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As managers we need to shut out the noise of our own talking way more often than we do. The longer we are in a management role, the more accustomed we get to controlling conversations— in many situations it’s expected, and we don’t realize how that begins to affect our overall demeanor and approachability.

An easy to remember, and very effective strategy in avoiding misplaced clarifying questions is to deal with only one question at a time in a conversation (also smart in keeping to one subject at a time, and getting it actionable before proceeding). You do this, by letting the speaker finish whatever they’re saying before you say anything, and you train yourself to get better at sensing those times when they’ve stopped talking, but they’re actually silently thinking of the next thing they’ll say. Learn to get comfortable with silence; consider it to be thinking time versus your next opportunity to speak.

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Recognize that in a superior – subordinate situation, it will normally take the subordinate longer to respond in a conversation between them than it will take the superior. This is not because one is smarter or better than the other; this is simply because the agenda of the conversation normally belongs to the superior. Whoever controls the agenda has done more advanced thinking about whatever the subject is. (This is the pattern the Daily Five Minutes reverses, because the agenda now is held by the subordinate.)

Within this Malama session, I’d advised these two managers that sometimes, the best clarifying question you can possibly ask, with a genuine desire to communicate better (sincerity – no sarcasm!) is “Would you like me to respond now?”

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Post Author: Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business. She fervently believes that work can inspire, and that great managers and leaders can change our lives for the better. You can also visit her on www.managingwithaloha.com. Rosa writes for Lifehack.org to freely offer her coaching to those of us who aspire to be greater than we are, for she also believes in us. Writing on What Great Managers Do is one of her favorite topics.

More by this author

Rosa Say

Rosa is an author and blogger who dedicates to helping people thrive in the work and live with purpose.

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Last Updated on July 18, 2019

What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

Some people just seem to float through life with a relentless sense of happiness – through the toughest of times, they’re unfazed and aloof, stopping to smell the roses and drinking out of a glass half full.

They may not have much to be happy about, but the simplicity behind that fact itself may make them happy.

It’s all a matter of perspective, conscious effort and self-awareness. Listed below are a number of reasons why some people are always happy.

1. They Manage Their Expectations

They’re not crushed when they don’t get what they want – or misled into expecting to get the most out of every situation. They approach every situation pragmatically, hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst.

2. They Don’t Set Unrealistic Standards

Similar to the last point, they don’t live their lives in a constant pursuit towards impossible visions of perfection, only to always find themselves falling short of what they want.

3. They Don’t Take Anything for Granted

Happiness rests with feeling fulfilled – those who fail to stop and appreciate what they have every now and again will never experience true fulfillment.

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4. They’re Not Materialistic

There are arguing viewpoints on whether or not money can really buy happiness; if it can, then we know from experience that we can never be satisfied because there will always be something newer or better that we want. Who has ever had enough money?

5. They Don’t Dwell

They don’t sweat the small things or waste time worrying about things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. They don’t let negative thoughts latch onto them and drain them or distract them. Life’s too short to worry.

6. They Care About Themselves First

They’re independent, care for themselves and understand that they must put their needs first in order to accommodate the needs of others.

They indulge, aim to get what they want, make time for themselves and are extremely self-reliant.

7. They Enjoy the Little Things

They stop to smell the roses. They’re accustomed to find serenity when it’s available, to welcome entertainment or a stimulating discussion with a stranger when it crosses their path. They don’t overlook the small things in life that can be just as important.

8. They Can Adapt

They’re not afraid of change and they work to make the most out of new circumstances, good or bad. They thrive under pressure, are not overwhelmed easily and always embrace a change of pace.

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9. They Experiment

They try new things, experience new flavors and never shy away from something they have yet to experience. They never order twice from the same menu.

10. They Take Their Time

They don’t unnecessarily rush through life. They work on their own schedule to the extent that they can and maneuver through life at their own relaxing pace.

11. They Employ Different Perspectives

They’re not stuck in one perspective; a loss can result in a new opportunity, hitting rock bottom can mean that there’s no where to go but up.

12. They Seek to Learn

Their constant pursuit of knowledge keeps them inspired and interested in life. They cherish information and are on a life-long quest to learn as much as they can.

13. They Always Have a Plan

They don’t find themselves drifting without purpose. When something doesn’t go as planned, they have a plan for every letter in the alphabet to fall back on.

14. They Give Respect to Get It

They are respectful and, in turn, are seen as respectable; the respect they exude earns them the respect they deserve.

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15. They Consider Every Opportunity

They always have their eyes open for a new road, a new avenue worth exploring. They know how to recognize opportune moments and pounce on them to make the most of every situation. Success is inevitable for them.

16. They Always Seek to Improve

Perpetual self-improvement is the key towards their ongoing thirst for success. Whatever it is they do, they take pride in getting better and better, from social interactions to mundane tasks. Their pursuit at being the best eventually materializes.

17. They Don’t Take Life Too Seriously

They’re not ones to get offended easily over-analyze or complicate matters. They laugh at their own faults and misfortunes.

18. They Live in the Moment

They don’t live for tomorrow or dwell on what may have happened yesterday. Every day is a new opportunity, a new chapter. They live in the now, and in doing so, get the most out of every moment.

You can learn how to do so too: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

19. They Say Yes

Much more often than they say no. They don’t have to be badgered to go out, don’t shy away from new opportunities or anything that may seem inconvenient.

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20. They’re Self-Aware

Most important, they’re wholly aware of themselves. They self-reflect and are conscious of their states of mind. If somethings bothering them, they fix it.

We’re all susceptible to feeling down every now and again, but we are all equipped with the necessary solutions that just have to be discovered.

Lack of confidence, inability to feel fulfilled, and susceptibility to stress are all matters that can be controlled through the way we handle our lives and perceive our circumstances.

Learn about How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life.

Final Thoughts

The main philosophy employed by the happiest includes the idea that life’s simply too short: life’s too short to let things get you down, to take things for granted, to pursue absolute and unrealistic perfection.

For some, employing these characteristics is a second nature – they do it without knowing. For others, a conscious effort must be put forth every now and again. Self-Awareness is key.

More About Happiness

Featured photo credit: Charles Postiaux via unsplash.com

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