“Questions lead to insight. Early in our careers, we’re trained to always have the answer. As we assume larger leadership roles, it is imperative that we lead the thinking rather than leading the work. Doing so effectively requires you to ask the questions you don’t know the answers to. In so doing, you can take the team beyond their current understanding of the world and lead them to explore new ideas, new opportunities, and new risks.” –Mike Figliuolo, managing director of ThoughtLeaders and author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership.

As a person who asks questions and explores new ideas, opportunities, and risks in my work and my life, this quote from Mike Figliuolo resonates with me. I like discovering what people haven’t said before or don’t usually tell people, so I don’t ask the first question without first creating the right atmosphere to help people feel comfortable enough to share with me. You have to set the table before you serve the meal; the same is true with asking questions; you have to create the right atmosphere to get the open, honest answers you need.

Break the ice. People want to know who they’re talking to. Introductions put people at ease and allow them to find the common ground they need to open up more freely.

Hand over control.  Control creates a comfort zone that opens the door to better dialogue. They have the right to share or not share, answer questions or decline to answer; they’re free to agree, disagree, and even vent. They will feel empowered to own and tell their story their way.

Take the guess work out. I don’t have anything on my mind, other than engaging and sharing. That’s how we explore new ideas, new opportunities and new risks: Everyone needs to know there’s no hidden agenda.

Apologize in advance. Everyone agrees to apologize in advance for anything anyone may say or do or how we react.  

Ask for forgiveness. We forgive each other in advance so no one has to worry about what we say or how we say it, to free them to feel free to speak their minds.

Jump in.  Get the conversation going with the first question.

Thanks, and thanks. I do a lot of thanking when I’m in conversation with people, for sharing their fears, feelings, and frustrations; introducing me to new concepts, ideas, experts and apps;  their convictions, hopes, dreams, and visions for a better world. And for the gift of their time, presence and honesty.

People have so much to share but need to feel comfortable first. Create an atmosphere that allows for openness and honesty, and the discoveries may be extraordinary.

“If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we should find.” –John Churton Collins