Inquiring instead of Accusing


It’s about 3:30 PM on a Monday. Outlook is bulging from an email binge. Your cell is hot to touch from Gen Y texts.  VMs from boomers are stretching your phone network capacity. Requests to like vendors’ Facebook pages are exponentially mounting up. LinkedIn invitations and recommendation requests need attention. You’ve had meetings scheduled back to back, and your eye comes to rest on information that could signal a situation has been created.  Oops – it’s already left the station, and now, you believe it is going to require considerable mop-up.  Depending on whether you had decaf this morning or fully leaded, your leadership response could be considerably impacted, especially if you have not been practicing your recently acquired deep breathing skills.

In the haste of each day, living our work lives in the passing lane, and doing so with fewer resources and greater expectations, we tend to move from task to task.  We expect our team to be at sprint pace every day instead of endurance training for the marathon. We breeze past teaching them the skills of situational analysis and judgment calls.  In this environment, we may default to behaviors that are not in the best interests of our team’s growth or the desired strategic outcomes for our business; nor are these behaviors indicative of best practices as leaders.  We assume. 

We assume the context for the email we received.  We assume the tone of voice.  We assume the external variables that led to a team member’s decision. We assume the interactions of the people involved that led to the decision.  We assume why a team member reacted in a certain way because of previous history with that individual.  We assume what the outcome will be based on those choices.

And then we catastrophize……”If we responded in this way, the employee has no idea that this is a hot button with this customer, and the word is going to get to the executive VP, and not only is the current order going to be cancelled, they’ll never do business with us again, and they’re going to let everybody know on Twitter. We’ll be ruined.” 

And then we accuse.  Instead of inquiring – going to see the employee, Skyping, IMg, calling, or asking for more information by email, we write the back story for the situation. We remain assured that we are right in our assumptions. We start the next interaction with them from a point of lack of trust, suspicion, and presumption that we are in possession of all the facts. And how does this manifest?  It could be a series of questions fired one after the other, to which the other person has no opportunity to process much less respond.  It could be yelling on top of the series of questions. (Never appropriate.)  It could be taking action without inquiring, which in the absence of all the facts, is exactly the wrong thing to do.  It could be making calls to the customer’s executive team, who in fact do not know about the situation at all and have no need to know about it, because it really has been well-handled.

There is so much about the environment we are in, which requires us to be reactive instead of proactive.  Staying at the strategy level as leaders and keeping our teams focused on the high level outcomes is a challenge when the speed of interaction has led to expectations of millisecond responses from everyone.  None of this may be reasonable or normal, and  yet, it does require us to increase the capacity of our teams to make good judgment calls in the face of the information stream. 

First, we must extend trust.  Until disproven, we must assume that those who work with us have good intentions.  Second, we must take the time to inquire instead of accuse.  Think about how you felt the last time someone didn’t ask first.  It was because of how it was delivered – tone, body language, and presumption.  Presumption that they were in possession of all the facts….Lack of courtesy to ask about context first….Whether a relationship previously existed within which the intent of the interaction could be inferred…..Whether there was openness to additional information or just a desire to get a point across. 

Inquiring instead of accusing…a beautiful way to build relationships, cement partnership, enhance the exchange of information, strengthen trust, create supportive teams, and teach by example how to achieve good judgment calls.

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