Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist known for his works discussing the digital, communications, corporate revolutions and technological singularity, said….
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Wondering, how does this quote relates to the title of the write up? Let me explain.
We human beings are born with the unique capability of asking questions. Observe the kids in your family and neighbourhood. Don’t you see them asking questions after questions? Ask your parents, ‘what was the most irritating thing about me when I was a kid’? Nine out of ten times, the reply will be, the number of questions and the type of questions you asked. Why did we do it? Or why do kids do that? The answer is, it is the natural process of growing up for our species the Homo sapiens. It is the process through which we get the answers and understandings of the what, why and how of this world.
What happens to this natural capability of ours as we grow up? Through education, experience, nurturing, coaching and feedback we stop asking questions. We do this because many times we think we already know the answers, other times we feel embarrassed by the number of the questions, and sometimes we start evaluating ourselves on the basis of others – ‘What will they think about my question?’
As our inherent capability of being curious and inquisitive slows or stops, we stop developing deeper understanding of issues and subjects, we make assumptions, provide incomplete or incorrect responses, etc. All of these results in us being less productive and effective in what we do. When our productivity and effectiveness start taking a beating, we reach out to others for help. The help comes to us in the form of training, coaching, self-help books and other means. One caveat here, we may at times reach out when things are fine and we want to do better.
I wonder how many of you have a similar experience as mine. In the past whether I was trying to improve my sales productivity, leadership effectiveness and service delivery, and today when I am trying to improve my coaching and leadership effectiveness, I have realized that there is one skill that comes into play between me and my success and that is the skill of QUESTIONING.
Years of upbringing, nurturing, training, and feedback has the same impact on me that I am sure many of you would have experienced or will be currently experiencing. On multiple occasions, I struggle for the right question, questions that will help get the person to open up to me, get the key information, explore uncover and undiscovered issues, get the right answer and most importantly help the person with his or her insights and own solutions. Sometimes my questions are too wordy and long, at times they are not the right type i.e. open instead of closed and vice versa, sometimes I unintentionally end up asking two or three questions in succession without waiting for the reply to the first question, at times the quality of answers tell me the questions did not get the respondent to reflect and have the insight, and yes, sometimes I miss listening to the answers as my mind races to construct the next question.
Each time that I encounter the struggle with success due to my questioning ability I get reminded of Alvin Toffler’s statement and I question my questioning skills. What do I have to relearn, unlearn and learn to improve my questioning skills?
Currently, on my coaching journey here is what I am doing,
Relearn – practice good listening, stay with the person and in the moment, ask one question at a time, keep them concise, apply ‘kiss’ – keep it simple and short, do not assume the answers, be curious like a child, make notes, use right acknowledgments to encourage the respondent, and time to time use silence
Unlearn – use of jargons, big words, phrases just for the sake of demonstrating my knowledge and experience and get out of the thought of winning the conversation
Learn – for getting the person to have their insights and answers, ask questions that forces the respondent to reflect, analyze, compare, contrast, evaluate, explore, consider and suppose
Good news!!! The unlearning, relearning and learning is working for me once again. How do I know this? Through the feedback from my coach, my peers and my clients.
I missed the chance of meeting Alvin Toffler and thanking him in person (as he left on his final abode in year 2016) and I therefore, through this blog, want to thank him for his relevant and powerful thought that works for me. I am sure it is working for many others across the world.
About the Author: Avesh Kumar Jha, is currently engaged with HGS (Hinduja Global Solutions) a leading Indian origin global BPO player. In his capacity as the global head for organization development at HGS he is responsible for competency development, leadership development and diversity & inclusion.
Each day Avesh applies his knowledge of chemistry & business administration and 24 years of experience in selling and marketing reprographic machines, industrial paints, engineering plastics and training solutions to positively impact business through positive behavioural change.
Outside of work he loves to spend time playing outdoor sports, explore new cultures, indulge in music, reading nonfiction, and adding value to family and friends.