Want to demonstrate your leadership by inspiring quality conversations? Try these discussion tips to get new ideas flowing.
posted by Jim Taggart
Today, I have a very special guest whose topic is of significant importance and interest to how we function as leaders at work, at home or in the community. Debbie Payne is Senior Principal Associate and President of DP Leadership Associates and Founder and Partner of Deberna International. In her discussion, Debbie presents 11 provocative questions to spark conversation and inquiry.
As a leader of yourself, your family, your community or within your organization, you have a responsibility to yourself and others. You have a responsibility and accountability to use your best thinking, to be ethical and to lead wisely.
What conversation is your organization having today? Sound like an odd question? Perhaps, but perhaps not. How well do we listen to the conversations in our organizations today? Do we think it important to know? Are the conversations respectful, intellectual, valuable, deeply thoughtful, filled with new creative ideas, authentic and coach-like? Or are they directive, guarded, calculated, venting, and non-engaging? What stimulates a conversation? Generally, it is a question.
What helps us be the best leaders we can be? Asking provocative questions to provoke new ideas, different thinking or more curiosity helps those around us see us as leaders. Great questions take time to answer. To create them, we need to really listen carefully and to craft a question that does not illicit an obvious answer.
According to Jill Konrath, renowned author and speaker, provocative questions “force you to look beyond the obvious, to analyze, assess and make decisions” and “ demonstrate your expertise and enhance your credibility, can’t possibly be answered without seriously considering their business situation.”
Terry J. Fadem, in his book The Art of Asking: Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers, says that provocative questions are “used to expand the thinking of a group… to provoke or stimulate creative thinking.”
To encourage more engaging conversations in your organization, have a look at some of these ideas and share them with your colleagues and your teams. Perhaps we can collectively shift the culture and engage more people, simply by improving our approach to conversation. Notice the provocative bonus question. As we become courageous in asking provocative questions, and in expecting them, we will find that our own leadership wisdom increases.
1. Explore a new topic
Search for a new mutual topic of interest to explore with someone you have had other conversations with. Get agreement to explore it intensely. Do it together, and notice the engagement between you sparkle.
2. Ask someone to teach you
Notice someone who knows something you would like to learn. Ask them to show you how or teach you. Be attentive, curious and encouraging as they share with you some new knowledge.
3. Listen deeply
Engage another in conversation by giving 100 percent focused, present and deep listening. When someone feels heard, their sense of value, worth and engagement rises.
4. Allow silence
When the person you are speaking with pauses, allow the silence to hang suspended and continue to hold focus with them. They will take a breath, realize you are truly engaged and continue sharing their thoughts.
If someone expresses a need to work towards a goal, ask if you can coach them. Use gentle, powerful and thoughtful questions to engage them in conversation. Listen well and suspend your own judgement in helping them to find their own answers.
6. Share a poem
To illustrate or spark conversation in a new way, share a poem. Read it aloud and encourage communication to stem from the poem, stimulating different thoughts and engaging different parts of the brain.
7. Explore what works
When faced with an issue or problem, instead of problem-solving, ask questions about what does work. Delve and dig deep to find the gems of good ideas, good processes and excellent work. It engages people in new ways.
8. Notice someone’s passion
When you know someone has a particular passion, find an article, an object, an idea or a piece of information related to that topic and share it with them. Engage them in conversation on their passion and sense their energy and vitality.
9. Converse with youth
Youth provide a window to the world without baggage. Learning with youth brings an engaging energy to old topics. Find ways to connect to the youth of the world and ask them to engage you in their conversations about the world.
10. Define leadership
Leadership as a word has no recognized definition. Create a definition with other leaders, explore what leadership looks like, find examples of leadership and engage in leader-like conversations.
Bonus: Ponder a quote
Quotes are words spoken and remembered. They often inspire and make us think. Create a question from the quote and engage in conversation with others about the meaning and application of it to your work. You may find it surprising to see the shift in your thinking and the level of your engagement. For example:
“Most things still remain undone…a glorious future.” Ingvar Kamprad
Coaching Question: What is it that is undone that I would like to do?
Debbie Payne is the Senior Principal Associate and President of DP Leadership Associates and Founder and Partner of Deberna International. She’s the author of over 25 curriculum publications and two books. Her latest book, Tri-namics Power of One, Two, Three: Provocative Questions for Leadership Wisdom (2009), is co-authored with Erna Hagge, Founder of Coaching Services at the University of British Columbia.
Debbie is a leadership consultant, facilitator and educator with over 25 years’ experience in Adult Education and consulting. She has certificates in management from the University of Western Ontario and in Organizational Behavior from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, as well as an MA in Leadership from Royal Roads University. You can reach her at by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit her blog Leadershipspace or meet her on LinkedIn.