The intro, the hook, ice-breakers, the entry, the approach; call it what you want but open-ended questions get you where you need to go. Open-ended questions humbly and genuinely open the door to a deeper conversation, where the details matter. They set the relationship framework for you to ask the more difficult questions. They kindly warm the stage for the dance that needs to happen that might have otherwise been missed.
They work with patients
How are the sugars? Blood pressure ok? Sleep well? Any pain? How’s the little guy?
A patient comes to the pharmacy counter to pick-up a refill for anxiety medication. It is a routine refill so no Pharmacist intervention is required but the Pharmacist tosses a door-opener: “How’s things?” The patient comments about some pain and the unsatisfied Pharmacist tosses another: “What kind of pain?” Fast-forwarding to the punchline, the Pharmacist refers them to ER to rule-out a heart attack. Maybe it was anxiety, but maybe not.
Door-openers work for staff
What’s new? How are the kids? How did it go with the _____ (insert whatever is going on in their lives -- car/dog/garden hose)?
A restaurant hostess arrives a few minutes late, looking tired and makes a simple error at the computer in the first 15 minutes. Instead of asking about the error, the shift manager tries: “How’s school?” The hostess lets out a wave of information she absolutely needed to get off her chest. At school, her instructor is giving her a hard time, there is a chance her upcoming placement could be out of town and her son was sick last night. Who cares about the little error? The comforting environment provides her with new energy. The pressure magically melts away and her accuracy was spot-on the rest of the day. Imagine the potentially bigger errors that did not happen later that day if the heavy dark cloud had not been lifted.
They work with kids
How did recess go? What was lunch like? What was the best part?
A parent gets her son off the school bus and asks: “How was gym”? After the son’s nonchalant reply, she serves up a second door-opener just in case. “Play anything?”
The story comes out fast about a classmate who stole his watch and threatened to take something else tomorrow. Imagine the opportunity the parent has now to repair a potential problem.
In many ways, both in work and life, the leader does not know what people are thinking but they have tremendous opportunity to turn on the lights. Leaders create the humble, safe environment for people around them to be productively vulnerable. A great leader can check in regularly enough with others to mitigate negative outcomes.
The great boss does not need to predict what they might find, they just need to dig in the right areas. They do this because they care and they understand the commitment they made to people when they were hired.
They open doors and walk through.
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