Employee engagement is a great buzzword. And engagement is built one conversation at a time, much more so than through big programs.
Here's a test. Which is more likely to engage others in a useful conversation? What might be going on behind the scenes with each question?
- We need to move our office from Chicago to Boston. Don’t you agree?
- I’m wondering if Boston is the best location for our office. What do you think?
- I think it’s important to optimize our location. What criteria might we use to choose the optimal city for our office?
#1 is really statement with a polite question at the end.
The question may not be seeking information as much as asking the other person to agree with an already formed opinion. If others sometimes describe you as being arrogant, you may be prone to this sort of question. It’s generally not a question that creates dialogue.
#2 is more open.
It leaves open the possibility that whatever city you have in mind for the move, there may be other viable options. It expresses a sense of curiosity about the other person’s views and thus is somewhat more engaging.
#3 is an invitation to figure things out together.
By offering a perspective (the importance of location), there is a context for the question. The question then invites the other person into the messy process of thinking together. It comes from a learning mindset, a mindset that acknowledges that whatever we each know about a situation is always only partial. It is this mindset that is the most engaging.
Some of you are probably thinking, “But if I already know Boston is the best answer, why have this conversation?” There are at least two reasons.
The first is that it’s a conversation that begins in humility and curiosity, an excellent mindset for building relationships and learning.
The second is that by engaging others in the process of thinking together, you strengthen your team.
If the building is burning, by all means tell people what to do and do it quickly. But if you’ve got something less urgent on your hands, you have a chance to take a longer view. Find your curiosity and think better together.