Thoughts from Aileron Business Advisor Wes Gipe 

The average person says approximately 16,000 words per day. That’s an average of 3 hours per day spent talking. To put this in perspective, every two days, we speak enough words to write a long novel. 

How much of those three hours per day is spoken with true intent? 

One of my favorite workshops to facilitate is Leading Powerful Conversations. It’s a favorite because it awakens participants to the reality that our words, if carefully and intentionally chosen, determine the quality of our conversations – and thus the extent of our influence. People learn to empower others through ordinary conversations they are already having, and in so doing get more done with less stress and in less time. 

You can make every conversation a powerful one by simply keeping the following in mind: 

  1. Listen intently: In most conversations, we listen with the primary intent of responding. As a result, we drop out of the conversation every 6-18 seconds to process and consider how we will respond to what we are hearing and observing. This is listening with the intent to respond. Powerful conversations are borne of intuitive listening. When listening intuitively, we are listening with our full attention. We notice what was not said. We observe themes. We compare the words we hear to non-verbal cues and tone/speed of speech.
  2. Keep it about them: We often face temptation to share our experiences as soon as we find common ground in a conversation. Most times, this is with the very best of intentions: make them feel comfortable, show them we understand. The problem is we seldom do understand. We simply cannot truly understand. We don’t have their experiences, personality traits, or insecurities. Without that context, to say we understand often seems hollow and patronizing. The easiest way to guard against this is to avoid possessive language (I, me). Rather than sharing your experience, ask them about theirs.
  3. Ask empowering questions, which: 
    • Are open-ended – cannot be answered with yes or no. -and- 
    • Empower the individual with which you are talking. 

This takes some practice but becomes habit faster than you might think. For example: 

“Can you get this done by next Friday?” – Close-ended, non-empowering 

“How likely is it you can get this done by next Friday?” – Open-ended, but non-empowering 

“If I asked you to get this done by next Friday, what are the three things most likely to make that difficult?” – Open-ended, empowering 

See the difference? It’s not hard to see that the bottom question would give you much more information and context, and would lead to a better outcome. Simply listening to your own questions as you ask them throughout the day will improve the quality of your conversation. 

Get comfortable with silence

Simply put, don’t answer your own questions. Too often we interpret silence as confusion or discomfort when in reality, people are just processing. Give space for the other person to contemplate their answer. A trick I often use when I’m tempted to unnecessarily break silence is to encourage silence: “I know that’s a big question – take all the time you need to think before answering.” I’ll even go so far as to suggest that they take an hour/day/week or so to think and then reconvene.   

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there is a time and place for close-ended, non-empowering questions. If asked “Where’s the bathroom?”, it’s okay to give a close-ended answer. While it’s technically true that you could answer in an open-ended, empowering way (“In a building like this, where would you expect the bathroom to be?”), you’d likely be looked at like you’ve lost your mind. The way you currently ask questions has a place. I’m simply asking you to consider that some of those conversations would benefit from a more thoughtful approach. 

An objection I often hear is: “Who in the world has time for this?” My question in return is: “How much time do you waste acting on incomplete information?” For most of us, it’s more than we’d like to admit. We are often guilty of running through the day like the third monkey on the ramp to Noah’s Ark, and then wondering where the day went. The feedback I get over time from those who commit themselves to this skill is: “I wish I’d have known to focus on this a long time ago.” Conversations may take a bit longer in the moment, but they don’t recur. 

Learn to use empowering questions to advance your business 

Are there things you wish you could say to those you lead but believe you can’t? Or do you want to be more intentional about how you use open-ended questions with your employees? 

Rethink the way you approach conversations by attending Leading Powerful Conversations. It’s a one-day workshop for you to practice communication skills that will ensure the best thinking – from you and others – is brought forth in conversations. 

Learn More about Leading Powerful Conversations