Thursday, December 27, 2018

Asking Questions

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Too often, we use questions as weapons. 

We use questions to dominate others, demonstrate our “superior” mastery, advance our own agenda.

No wonder asking questions, and being asked questions, has become so emotionally charged.

What if we approached encounters with a desire to understand the other first?

Listening then becomes a pre-requisite for asking good, relationship-building, information-gathering questions.

Questioning then becomes a tool for working and creating together.

I have found that the best conversations (and best relationships) have started with my desire to learn about and from the other. 

When I go into a conversation with an agenda, or with a pre-conceived notion, or in a rush, or trying to prove something, it doesn’t go nearly as well.

Programmers have code libraries. Coaches, Therapists, Ethnographic Researchers, and Business Analysts have question pools.

Sir John Whitmore provides one of my favorite coaching question pools in Coaching for Performance.  He designed these questions to help managers improve employee performance.

Tony Stoltzfus also provides a solid introductory question pool in Coaching Questions

These tools are helpful, but they work best as a way to seed conversation.  Other questions surface if you are listening deeply and seeking to understand.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


Listening deeply to another is the best gift I can think to give this year.

Being able to hold space for another.

Listening with no agenda. 

Listening without aiming to respond, or be clever, or win the conversation.

Many of us aren’t taught to do this.

Our educational system seems to reinforce “listening to win.”  If you have ever sat in a graduate-level seminar, you will understand what I mean.

Our systems reward cleverness, witty repartee, put-downs, “strong” arguments, “influencing others.”

Mark Goulston and John Ullman, in Real Influence, recognize that the core of real influence is in listening to the other, learning where they are coming from, and meeting them there vs. “getting someone to do something.”

So many of us hunger to be understood. The recent statistics on loneliness are staggering, In a 2018 survey of 20,000 American adults, Cigna found:

  • 54% feel that no one knows them well
  • 56% said that the people around them “aren’t necessarily with them.”
  • 40% felt isolated and lacked companionship

AARP noted that of adults 45 and over – 1 in 3 are lonely.

The situation is also global.

Explanations for our feelings of loneliness vary.

The cause may not matter in the long-run.

I figured the best thing I could do is to learn to listen.  Connect with the people around me. Seek to understand where the other is coming from. Provide a space to just be.

Listening skills require practice.  

Listening skills DON’T require courses (though courses exist).

This is my skill focus for 2019.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Observation and Pattern Recognition

Observation allows us to see what is going on.

Pattern recognition helps us to make sense of what we are seeing.

Being busy is valued in today’s society. As a result, we forget to stop and watch what is happening around us.

Are we seeing what we expected to see? Does what you are seeing map to a pattern you have seen before? Is there a variable in this context that has not appeared in prior encounters with similar scenarios?

From my understanding, the readers of this blog have been around the block a few times. 30-60, college-educated, 10-30 years in their careers.  

At this stage, you have probably seen at least one cycle of trends. Centralization / Decentralization, Onsite/Remote, Hierarchical/Networked, Independent / Teamwork, or whatever polarity tends to dominate your field.

You have also seen what works and what doesn’t, and have likely formed strong opinions based on this experience. 

You have also formed clear mental models and frameworks.  Mastery is built on these models and frameworks. There’s significant value in these models and frameworks and, in most instances, they work well.  Models and frameworks help you make sense of what is going on around you and help you integrate new information as it comes in.

It may be worthwhile to get clear on the assumptions you are using when you observe what is going on around you. Are these assumptions accurate for this context?

Often, the answer is “yes,” but there are still surprises, and it’s good to be aware of the assumptions you are making when you are making judgments and decisions.

Is there something in the environment that you have not seen before that may impact the patterns you recognize?

Many of us have been trained to write off these anomalies.  How often has the thing you wrote off returned to bite you?  What does the pattern look like when you account for the anomaly?

I invite you to spend some time observing your surroundings, looking for patterns, and questioning your assumptions.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Learning How to Learn

Many of us have been educated in schools built to produce good Industrial Revolution era workers. Learn by the clock, perform to standard, don’t question the teacher.

When I pursued my graduate degree in Instructional Technology (early 2000s) – much of the conversation centered around how a child’s brain developed.  Adult learning theory focused on embedding any new information into the frameworks that adult had already developed.  Though there was a sense that humans continued to develop once they hit adulthood, there was an implicit assumption that continued development was limited to a select few and everyone else quit growing. 

This assumption mapped to Frederick Taylor’s belief that there were a select few “college men” (i.e. managers) who were capable of making all the decisions and everyone else could do the work.

Maslow’s “self-actualization” level was a “nice-to-have” if you got lucky.

The past 20 years has produced research confirming the plasticity of the adult brain. These findings are only now appearing in the popular culture.

The ability to learn new things quickly has become increasingly important as our environments evolve at a seemingly faster pace than ever.  Knowledge rapidly becomes outdated. Years of mastery becomes irrelevant.

Harold Jarche has put together a nice framework that helps us practically learn new things quickly – Personal Knowledge Mastery.

Harold sees Personal Knowledge Mastery as consisting of three interwoven processes:

  • Seeking – Finding and receiving information.
  • Sensing – How we make sense of the information we find and receive and putting it to use (or not).
  • Sharing – Exchanging what we learn with another. Making the necessary adjustments as we receive feedback.

In my experience, the Seeking process starts with a question and getting a general lay-of-the-land. 

The Sensing process has me finding or developing frameworks to organize that information and begin discerning the information’s importance.  Is the information important, or is it noise? Do I need to unlearn something from previous experience to incorporate this new information? Does the framework I currently hold still work or do I need to find or create a new one?  What assumptions are behind the information? What assumptions am I holding as I engage this information?  This reflection, processing, and integration time is invaluable, nevermind the practice. New knowledge and skills don’t stick unless I honor this space.

Sharing allows me to refine that information and challenges me to make enough sense of that information such that I can either ask questions (I find that I need to understand enough of what I don’t understand about the information to be able to create a question that makes sense to another person) or communicate what I have learned and request feedback.

Learning how to learn will allow us to keep our technology skills up to date – no matter what happens to the user interfaces and functionality of the tools we use.


Tuesday, December 04, 2018