Do You Know Why Rhetorical Questions Are For Jerks?

That's not a rhetorical question. Because if you hate to have a creative, productive team, you'll surely lambast them with your rhetorical brilliance.

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.

But they feel so good to ask!

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]

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