Over at HBR, Roger Schwarz shares with us a telling exercise.
Glance over the following three questions and see which is genuine--that is, actually opening up the option for the person you're talking to to contribute to the conversation--and which are rhetorical, where you're not genuinely curious, you're just trying to make a point to them about how impressively correct you are:
- "You don't really think your solution will work, do you?"
- "If we implemented my proposal, what problems, if any, would it create in your divisions?"
- "Why do you think I asked you to follow up yesterday?"
What's the problem with rhetorical questions? As Schwarz observes, when you ask them, you're not really looking for an answer--you're just implicitly stating your own views. And, we may add, slathering a a thick frosting of shame on your team's culture.
Why do we love rhetorical questions? (See what I did there?) Because they feel good to ask, Schwarz says--they let you make some clever, quick verbal points.
But they have stifling consequences, he notes:
Rhetorical questions undermine your team's working relationships and reduce its ability to make high-quality decisions. Rhetorical questions enable you to ask others to be accountable without being transparent about your own views, leading team members to feel insulted, defensive, or discounted. As a result, team members trust you less, withdraw from the discussion, and withhold relevant information that the team needs to make good decisions.
Why is that lack of transparency a problem, other than making us appear like reprehensible my-title-is-my-identity jerkfaces?
Because, as a high-level CTO will tell you, companies need to have the maximum velocity possible in this opaque, volatile world of ours--and anything that hampers that velocity, like shame, distrust, and withdrawal will have bottom-line consequences.
But to learn how to catch our rhetoricals before (or just after) we ask them, we should just read Schwarz's post, shouldn't we?
Hat tip: HBR
[Image: Flickr user Délirante Bestiole]