Questions as Leverage

Do you ever feel like your conversation has turned into a wrestling match? When both parties are struggling to be heard and understood, both trying to meet their own agenda for the conversation, a discussion can fall apart in no time at all. So, today I offer you two simple rules of communication:

1. When you *push*, most people back away.

2. When you *invite*, most people step forward.

Now, what do these mean for you and your life? We all want to be heard and understood, and yet, sometimes we need an invitation to speak further. You might be surprised by what you can learn or do with a simple question. Many of my clients are learning to use questions as a way to encourage people to come forward, open up, share information and relate better. Here are a few examples to show you what I mean.

Tom brought an issue to his boss, looking to collaborate on a solution, but his boss simply looked back across the table and asked, "How are you going to fix it?" Instead of shrinking under his confrontational tone, Tom asked, "What would you do if you were in my shoes?" By simply inviting him to contribute, the entire discussion took on a better tone - and ended in a better solution.

When her business partner wanted to know her sales figures for the past month, Stella started to feel nervous. So instead of reacting, she - phrasing it with sincere concern and not defensiveness - asked for more information. "Why are you asking?" The real concern wasn't her performance; it was their new competitor. By inviting a larger perspective, they could address the real issue.

Jim and Gina have been looking at this push/invite dynamic in their marriage. When he comes home late, Gina is usually agitated and irritable. "What takes you so long to get home?" He used to back away emotionally when she did this, and things would be chilly between them for a couple hours. But last time, instead of defending himself, he asked, "Out of curiosity, why do you ask?" When he decided to skip the wrestling, they could relate again. She explained that she just missed him and wanted to spend more time together. There really wasn't anything to fight about.

Most people answer questions quickly and reflexively. But if you want to sidestep the wrestling and get on the same team, you have to slow down and really listen to people. And it helps to be curious. Can you hold your tongue long enough to wonder, "why do you ask?"

Something to reflect on: As you go through the week, make a conscious effort to ask more questions - even when you think you know the answer. Invite people to offer a little more information. "What makes you say that?", "What do you mean?", "Why do you like this job?", "What do you think?"

You might start seeing people differently when you get into their heads and explore their positions, motivations, and concerns. And when they see you expressing an interest, they just might tell you something new.

Pamela Dunn coaches successful professionals and entrepreneurs to their highest vision of success. Her results-oriented program builds efficiency and eliminates overwhelm. For free business-building information and more about coaching, visit

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