Don't ask for the sake of asking
I still remember one of the first job interviews I did.
I was at the end of a very intensive round of interviews with one of the leading strategy consulting firms.
The senior manager that was interviewing me seemed to be very pleased about the interview. At the end he asked me if I had any questions about their company. I said that I was a bit surprised that during all the interviews I had never met a woman, not even in the corridors, apart from the receptionist, and that I was curious to hear what he thought about it.
He looked quite puzzled, and just cut it short with something like “we don’t discriminate in any way, probably ladies are in general not interested in this job…”?!?
Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job, but that’s not the point here.
What struck me was that this gentleman apparently had in his interview bullet list a point stating “close the interview by asking the candidates if they have questions”, but was absolutely not interested in hearing my question nor trying to respond to it.
I get that he was taken by surprise, and that I was probably a bit naive given that I was a new graduate interviewing for her first “serious” job, but I still believe he could have definitely come up with a better answer, or at least candidly admit he didn’t know the reason, and empathise a bit more with my underlying doubts or fears.
Fast forward a few years, a reorganisation was going on in the company I was working in. My boss called me in for a one-to-one meeting asking me about my career aspirations, how I was seeing my role possibly evolving in the new structure and so on. Nice discussion that left me energised and full of hopes for exciting opportunities ahead.
Didn’t hear from him for a while and after a couple of weeks he called for a team meeting in which he presented the new organisation and the new people joining the team… nothing like what we had discussed together.
The result? I grabbed another interesting job opportunity after a couple of months and left the company.
What do these two stories have in common?
Several things about ineffective leadership, I think, but what I’d like to focus on today is: the missed opportunity in communication, since questions were asked but the answer was not properly heard.
And I see it happening often, in the workplace and in my private life.
Does it ever happen to you that a friend asks how you are, but the moment your answer is not the usual “fine thanks, and you?” she disengages with you and cuts short?
Or a colleague asks for your input during a meeting then starts checking her phone while you answer?
Or you ask your kids how their day was, but while they answer you are already thinking about what to prepare for dinner, how to answer that last email, when to call the dentist to schedule your next appointment?
Or you ask a team mate for his input on an important topic, expecting him to be aligned with you, but then realise he is on a very different page and you just disengage from the conversation?
If we pause for a moment, we often see the counterproductive effect of this behaviour: I still feel now the frustration coming from the two episodes I shared above, by feeling that my voice was not heard and my opinion did not count.
And yet, we sometimes do not pause for that moment and do fall in the trap of asking questions just for the sake of asking.
What I’d like to remind myself and you on this topic is: Better not ask a question if we are not willing to give time and space to listen to the answer, build on it, take into consideration whatever is being brought to the table.
Which does not mean we need to agree with the answer nor do whatever the other person is asking for, but it does mean we need to remain curious and open and to really actively listen, with our ears, and possibly with our heart too.