Too often, as leaders, we get fixated on our own point of view and spend our time trying to convince others of our opinions instead of trying to find out theirs. As English novelist and politician Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton asserted, “The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.”
That’s where questions come into play. By asking questions and listening carefully to answers, we can discover valuable perspectives other than our own. That’s valuable because we often make faulty assumptions about other people:
We believe people are good at the same things we are good at—they aren’t.
We believe people are energized by the same things that energize us—they aren’t.
We believe people see the big picture in the same way we do—they don’t.
A wise leader once told me, “Before you attempt to set things right, make sure you see things right.” That advice helped me to understand that most miscommunication is a result of people’s having different assumptions. We can correct those wrong assumptions and prevent miscommunication by asking questions.
When I was the lead pastor at Skyline in San Diego, our staff did extensive interviews with people when they became members of the church. One of the questions we always asked was “What is the main thing you would change about the church?” That question paid great dividends because their fresh eyes saw things that ours did not. I would estimate that 80 percent of the positive changes we made were the result of what people told us in answer to those questions.
John C. Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership (New York City, NY: Center Street, 2014).
I believe asking questions is one of the best ways to teach. Toward this end, I have devoted a good part of my life to writing discussion-based Bible study lessons that have groups talking. Check them out at www.mybiblestudylessons.com