Pay attention to questions in disguise

How to get out of the habit of telling: Pay attention to questions in disguise

I have a question for you today: are you asking questions with intention to hear what someone else has to think ā€” or you offering your ideas and suggestions disguised as questions?

We think we are asking but we are really telling!

On the continuum of asking vs. telling, we have an imbalance leading with advocacy over inquiry.

Most of us have developed a habit of telling ā€” and oftentimes we think we are asking questions when we are really telling.

We are advocating for 💡ideas 💡when we think we are asking for someone else’s.

These are prompting or leading questions.

In today’s video and article below I share with you the challenge of questions in disguise and offer two suggestions for starting to get out of the habit of telling!

Join me to learn to break your telling habit!

Breaking the Telling Habit WorkshopI’m excited to announce a new workshop I’m leading on June 2nd: “Breaking the ‘Telling Habit’: How to use Powerful Questions to Unlock Innovation and Amplify Engagement”

Join me for thisĀ  2.5-hour workshop and learn how to break your telling habit and transform your leadership!Ā 

During our time together, youā€™ll learn how to use powerful questions and purposeful listening to make your leadership and coaching more effective and empowering.

Asking better questions frees you from being expert who has have all the answers, and helps you teach your team how to learn and create solutions that far exceed what any one person could come up with alone.

More details 👇at the bottom of this article. Register and get full access to the workshop recording and all supplementary materials.

How to you break the telling habit? Pay attention to questions in disguise!

If you can learn to break the ā€œtelling habitā€ and start tapping into the power of effective questions, you open up whole new horizons of possibility for your organization, your team, and yourself!

Doing so not only teaches your team how to take ownership of problems, it also empowersĀ them to take ownership of finding theĀ solutionsĀ ā€” which means that you now have a whole teamā€™s worth of bright, creative thinking on problems, instead of everything coming back to you.

And you will find that you are a better friend, parent, partner and more in your personal life.

In the video below I offer up my number one recommendation for becoming a more intentional leader and get out of the habit of telling: paying attention to the quality of your questions.


Below is a lightly edited version of the video transcript with some additional links and images to help you get out of the habit of telling. I will continue to offer more tips and ideas about the power of asking better questions in future posts.

Start paying attention to the quality of your questions!

Today I want to talk with you about a topic that is near and dear to what I consider to be one of the most fundamental important practices for us to learn as humans and as leaders, and that is the power of asking more effective questions.

I challenge you to pay attention to the quality of the questions you ask.

Are they really questions, or are they your idea disguised as a question?

It was really shocking to me when I started to discover how many leading questions I asked each and every day and, now that I have tuned my ears to it, I notice it everywhere!

We’re all asking questions in disguise! We are giving our ideas when we think we are asking questions.

These “questions” are like a wolf dressed up as a sheep.

They are your ideas disguised as a question!

Pay attention to the questions in disguiseWhen I talk with teams I share this funny-looking slide.

This image is actually a wolf dressed up as a sheep.

And, more often than not, the questions that we ask are not true, genuine questions.

Instead, we are asking fake questions — our ideas disguised as questions:

  • “Have you tried my great idea?”
  • “What about doing X Y, Z?”
  • Or offering options or anything that can be asked as a closed-ended, “Yes or No” question.

These are prompting and leading questions, and they’re not genuine coaching questions that are asked with the intention of helping the other person think more deeply about their problem.

It’s us showing up as the expert or offering suggestions, rather than leading with a place of curiosity of hearing what the other person has to say. And we are taking over the ownership of the thinking.

How does it feel to be asked a “question” in disguise?

Think back to some times when you have been on the receiving end of “questions”.

I’m sure you’ve experienced these situations.

Someone asks you a question giving you only two possible options “was it this or that” and neither was your answer and you feel stuck in how to respond.

Or the person just ask you a series of closed ended answers and you find yourself feeling interrogated answering just Yes or No.

How did you feel in either of these situation?

I bet that you felt a bit frustrated (I know I do!). These types of close ended questions limit your responses and can leave you feeling shut down.

Or how about when you go to a friend or a colleague with a problem and they start trying to solve your problem. They think they are being helpful by asking you a bunch of questions about “why don’t you try this idea or do that idea”, but really they are giving you their solution after solution in disguise as a question.

How did you feel then? I often want to shout “stop! just listen to me and stop giving all your ideas”.

Misaligned intentions and actions

intention | pay attention to questions in disguiseAnd more often than not, we THINK we are asking questions. And we genuinely want to help the other person solve their problem.

This is an example of our actions not aligning with our intentions and desired impact.

If our intention — our purpose in that moment — is to help someone else think through a problem and to help develop their problem-solving capability, our actions need to align in that direction.

Asking rather than telling is often more helpful.

We have an imbalance of telling vs. asking

who owns the problem | pay attention to questions in disguiseWe’re all showing up with more telling than asking.

So, on this scale of telling versus asking we have a big imbalance where we’re really telling so much more often than asking.

And, we need to right this balance.

Telling is good and right in many situations – such as when we need to set direction or when we are an expert providing specific knowledge.

But if we aren’t asking genuine questions as well, we’re then always showing up as the person owning all the problems.

When we are always telling, we are not creating capability and confidence in other people as well.

But in doing so, you find that we become the bottleneck for all projects and end up owning the responsibility for all problem solving.

Our teams can become passive, disempowered, and people stop thinking for themselves. And innovation and engagement give way to status quo and presenteeism.

Get out of the habit of asking prompting and closed questions

I have two suggestions for you when you find yourself asking leading or closed-ended questions.

1 – Reframe your question as a “What”or “How” question.

what and how? | pay attention to questions in disguiseInstead of asking “What about trying my great idea?”, ask, “What were you thinking?” or “What next steps could you try?”

Ask a genuine open ended question.

Think about the solution, the idea or the suggestion that you wanted to make as a question in disguise, and backtrack that to ask a question that you don’t actually have the answer to.

You’ll be surprised what people say and the thinking it can draw out.

2 – Label your advice as advice, don’t disguise it as a question

If you have advice or an idea that you want to share, label it!

Don’t disguise it as a question.

Say, “I have something I’d like to share with you.” Or, “Here is a suggestion that I have.” rather than disguising it as a question.

Because when we disguise our advice or suggestions as questions, we’re tricking ourselves and we’re being disingenuous to the people that were helping.

More to come on the power of asking more effective questions!

I have so many more things to share about the power of asking questions and the companion part of asking questions, which is listening effectively, not just with our ears, but with our open minds as well.

So, let’s get out of the habit of telling!

Become aware of the quality of the questions you’re asking.

Because asking questions is really how you will going to engage people.

It’s how you’ll to create more ideas and get all of those different concepts and ideas out from other people.

It’s how you develop confidence and capability in the people that you work with, as well as your families and your friends.

It’s how we all show up as more genuine, caring, curious people.

Want to get out the habit of telling? Join me for my new workshop “Breaking the Telling Habit”!

Breaking the Telling Habit WorkshopPlease join me for a 2.5 hour workshop that I’m leading on June 2nd called “Breaking the Telling Habit: How to Use Powerful to Unlock Innovation and Amplify Engagement.”

Enjoy lifelong access to the workshop and accompanying materials to reference at your convenience.

Youā€™ll walk away knowing:

  • How to stop being the ā€œproblem solverā€ in your organization, and how to create an engaged, capable team team of problem solvers all working together towards a common goal.
  • The surprising ways that your ā€œtelling habitā€ is damaging your organization and your leadership.
  • Why not all questions are created equal, and the sneaky trap we fall into thatĀ looksĀ like asking good questions ā€¦ but is really hampering your team.
  • The 3 types of questions you must master to be an effective leader and coach, and other essential skills such as listening and providing observable feedback.
  • Knowing when you really should be telling, rather than asking.Ā 
  • How to reawaken a spirit of creativity, innovation, and excitement in your team.
  • My 3-part framework for practicing this new skill in your day-to-day engagements and aligning it with your greater intentions for your work.

Additional resources

I am excited to continue to share some more ideas and concepts for you to help you get out of this habit of telling and to get more into the habit of asking!

For more resources, check out a few other resources here about the power of asking more effective questions:

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