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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.

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Last Updated on January 18, 2019

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

Some people will have a rain cloud hanging over them, no matter what the weather is outside. Their negative attitude is toxic to your own moods, and you probably feel like there is little you can do about it.

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

If you want to effectively deal with negative people and be a champion of positivity, then your best route is to take definite action through some of the steps below.

1. Limit the time you spend with them.

First, let’s get this out of the way. You can be more positive than a cartoon sponge, but even your enthusiasm has a chance of being afflicted by the constant negativity of a friend.

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In fact, negativity has been proven to damage your health physically, making you vulnerable to high levels of stress and even cardiac disease. There’s no reason to get hurt because of someone else’s bad mood.

Though this may be a little tricky depending on your situation, working to spend slightly less time around negative people will keep your own spirits from slipping as well.

2. Speak up for yourself.

Don’t just absorb the comments that you are being bombarded with, especially if they are about you. It’s wise to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but being too quiet can give the person the impression that you are accepting what’s being said.

3. Don’t pretend that their behavior is “OK.”

This is an easy trap to fall into. Point out to the person that their constant negativity isn’t a good thing. We don’t want to do this because it’s far easier to let someone sit in their woes, and we’d rather just stay out of it.

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But if you want the best for this person, avoid giving the false impression that their negativity is normal.

4. Don’t make their problems your problems.

Though I consider empathy a gift, it can be a dangerous thing. When we hear the complaints of a friend or family member, we typically start to take on their burdens with them.

This is a bad habit to get into, especially if this is a person who is almost exclusively negative. These types of people are prone to embellishing and altering a story in order to gain sympathy.

Why else would they be sharing this with you?

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5. Change the subject.

When you suspect that a conversation is starting to take a turn for the negative, be a champion of positivity by changing the subject. Of course, you have to do this without ignoring what the other person said.

Acknowledge their comment, but move the conversation forward before the euphoric pleasure gained from complaining takes hold of either of you.

6. Talk about solutions, not problems.

Sometimes, changing the subject isn’t an option if you want to deal with negative people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be positive.

I know that when someone begins dumping complaints on me, I have a hard time knowing exactly what to say. The key is to measure your responses as solution-based.

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You can do this by asking questions like, “Well, how could this be resolved?” or, “How do you think they feel about it?”

Use discernment to find an appropriate response that will help your friend manage their perspectives.

7. Leave them behind.

Sadly, there are times when we have to move on without these friends, especially if you have exhausted your best efforts toward building a positive relationship.

If this person is a family member, you can still have a functioning relationship with them, of course, but you may still have to limit the influence they have over your wellbeing.

That being said, what are some steps you’ve taken to deal with negative people? Let us know in the comments.

You may also want to read: How to Stop the Negative Spin of Thoughts, Emotions and Actions.

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