Ask Question, Be Quiet

One of the hardest parts of a 1:1’s is making space for folks to answer your questions.

You might be thinking, ‘I have great 1:1 sessions’ and/or ‘we talked and came up with an answer to the outstanding question.’ These may be true, but it’s important to really think about the conversations you’re having and dissect who does the talking and how the answers are reached.

It seems easy; ask a question, wait for an answer. But, being quiet is often challenging! I’ve found there are a few reasons you might accidentally be clogging the space for someone to answer a question.

Awkward Silence

As humans, silence makes us uncomfortable, so we try to fill it. It’s important to realize that there is a difference between awkward silence and giving people space to process, brainstorm and answer a question.

I find that taking a breath after I ask a question to force a pause helps. It can also be calming to add ‘I’ll give you a moment to think about it’, or ‘There are no wrong answers’ to alleviate pressure to search for the right answer.

Second Guessing Execution –

Especially when growing confidence in leading 1:1’s, it can be common to (often unknowingly) second guess your delivery.

You: Asks question

Your Brain: Did I ask the question well? Does it make sense? Have I crossed a line in asking this? Should I reword it?

This can make a question turn into a monologue, create an unintentional tangent to a new topic or you just straight up answering the question.

If you ask a question and think you may have confused your audience, simply ask them to repeat back what they heard. If there is misalignment, assume responsibility to communicate more clearly.

Example: Just to make sure we’re on the same page, what did you hear me ask?

No Answer –

In an effort to protect the person you’re interacting with, you might fill in the space because you fear they might not know an answer. Or maybe they will get nervous and freeze; you don’t want to embarrass them!

Although based in good intent, you have to remember the people you are working with are grownups who are smart enough to have been hired at your company to do a job. Trust that they are capable of critical thinking and even tough conversations.

If someone freezes, guide them to explore, but don’t take them right to the end. I find suggesting a potential next step and asking them for advice can help get people talking.

Example – What if we did this next? What do you think would happen? Do you think there are any negative consequences? How would the team react? Is there a better way?

Wrong Answer –

Sometimes we don’t leave space for people to answer questions because we already know what we want them to do. If this is the case, do not pose it as a question. An excellent way to lose the trust of others is asking for their opinion on a situation where the outcome is already set.

I encourage you to take a look at your own 1:1’s and see if you are creating enough space for answers and thoughts besides your own. Remember that behavior changes take time and practice, so be patient with yourself.

Pro Tip – a sticky note reminder on your computer to ‘take a pause’ works wonders!

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