When one word can change a conversation completely …
Powerful leaders can use words highly effectively. One that is least understood and yet really powerful is ‘And’.
An Assistant Chief Executive friend of mine once told me about the thing that most irritated him. This was when his office door opened and a staff member would come in and say ‘ I have a problem’ – and after briefly outlining the problem they would then wait … for the answer! He would then have to tell them that he didn’t possess a magic drawer marked ‘The Answer’! He would then ask about their problem and probe into why it was a problem for them. Eventually they would come up with what exactly the problem was; what options the staff member would be comfortable with; and it was only then that my friend would suggest taking one of the options. Together they would then agree a plan. The staff member would go away. ‘Why can’t they do that themselves?’ asked my friend – then all I would need to do would be to suggest which option to choose!
He continued: “What if there was a way to get staff to think through problems for themselves?” Finally, he exclaimed: “What they need is a way to problematize!” In other words, staff needed a sort of mechanism to enable managers who faced problems to work out the nature of the problem; think through possible options for how it might be solved; make some recommendations on which option they preferred … and then go and discuss it!’. It got us thinking – how do we go about analyzing problems?
The key is knowing the right questions to ask – very often solutions to problems are staring us in the face; we just don’t see them. Some of the sharpest tools in our management toolbox are knowing the right question to ask and when to ask it. As leaders this is where ‘and’ comes in. ‘And?’ is the word that encourages; questions; pushes the question back to the staff member; and ultimately helps guide them to the solution they actually know already. Try it!
Just ask the question ‘and?’ (and leave the rest of your question – what’s in the brackets below – hanging …)
And (so what is the real problem)?
And (so what do you think might be done)?
And (the point you are trying to make)?
And (are you thinking really clearly on this)?
And (have you explored the possible options you have here)?
And (go on a bit more, don’t stop there) …
‘And’ is such a gentle yet powerful word – it can prompt exceptional thinking from staff who are willing to embrace challenges and take on a greater self-leadership role. It also helps senior leaders who feel under pressure to have ‘all the answers’. Using ‘and?’ allows them to reflect and ask other questions until they can see the whole situation more clearly and begin to make choices.
At Clifford/ Style we encourage an investigative approach to identifying exactly what the problem is; this allows for creativity; and it offers solutions to emerge from those who probably already knew the answer – they just hadn’t realised it.
Posted by Dr Nick Clifford
16th December 2019