4 times. That is how much a simple yet insidious and chronic habit is potentially increasing costs in your organization. The habit goes largely undetected because it’s commonly practiced, very observable, completely accepted, and highly resistant to change. As time pressures and the need to deliver results increases on managers, costs increase exponentially as a result of this bad habit. What are managers doing to destroy profitability? The answer – they have a bad habit of asking too many closed ended questions.
As a refresher, closed ended questions are questions that typically can be answered with a one word answer and often begin with words such as “can”, “do”, “will”, and “is”. Here are 5 proven reasons how closed ended questions (CEQs) are destroying corporate profitability and a solution to stop the destruction.
Closed Ended Questions Shut Down Communication
CEQs are effective for getting agreement. They are also effective at ending conversations, isn’t that right? Even if you disagreed with me, if I were your boss, chances are very high you would agree rather than challenge me.
Closed Ended Questions Create The Illusion of Efficiency
Managers think they’re creating 2 way dialogue when using CEQs. When these type of questions are asked of a group of people, silence is typically the response. Most managers take silence to equal acceptance or agreement, and that is a potentially very costly mistake. Managers also prefer these types of questions because they are easier and take less time than open ended questions. That is true but CEQs are ineffective for checking for understanding, and a lack of understanding is the leading cause of rework in most organizations.
Closed Ended Questions Erode Employee Engagement
Our online study and research by the Gallup organization on Employee Engagement is proof that CEQs are a root cause of disengagement. Employees want to have input. They want to be heard. The only way to meet those expectations is to have conversations. Unfortunately, overuse of these questions results in managers having monologues being delivered in the presence of hostages (aka their employees).
Closed Ended Questions Destroy Innovation
In every major study on skills gaps including those by SHRM and Bersin and Associates, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and problem solving skills are cited as seriously lacking in the American workforce. Knowing how to effectively use questions is a critical management skill that is required for all of those high level skills, and overusing CEQs does not promote interactivity and dialogue. As a result, most managers are woefully deficient in their ability to have the types of exploratory and problem solving conversations that lead to breakthrough and innovative ideas for the most pressing problems.
Closed Ended Questions Create the Illusion that Communication has Occurred
Managers assume because CEQs are easier, faster, and simpler to ask that they have communicated effectively. There is extensive proof of this fact – just count the number of CEQs asked compared to the number of open ended questions. As President and Founder of Infinity Consulting and Training Solutions, by September 2012 I’d already worked with over 900 managers from all over the world. I’ve consistently observed the managers asking 4 to 7 CEQs for every 1 open ended question asked. This is completely backwards and dramatically driving up costs in the organization for all the reasons already mentioned.
Increasing the use of open ended questions is very straight forward. Simply ask more “what” and “how” questions. It will take time, practice, and coaching to eliminate the bad habit of overusing closed ended questions yet the investment is guaranteed to produce a very positive return on investment (ROI).
Now that you know why it is important to ask more open ended questions, you can begin reducing the unnecessary costs that are hidden in plain sight for all to see.
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