What to do when open questions don’t work

A new manager, six months into her new role came to me with a dilemma.

She wanted to create a buzzy, collaborative team where everyone is bouncing ideas off each other but whenever she asks for their ideas she gets nothing.

And she’s asking great open questions like:

 – What ideas do you have for what we do next? 
 – What are our options? 
 – Who could help us? 

But still, nothing.

Having only been in role for six months we wondered if perhaps the psychological safety to speak up without fear hadn’t been established yet so we talked about ways she could strengthen this.  Check out post 149 for more.

Me putting ideas on post-its up on a wall 
Image Credit: Miriam Ingram Brand Photographer

Then I suggested a subtle change in the wording of her questions.

I suggested she add the word ‘might’.

When you add ‘might’ to a question, it takes away the pressure of having to know the answer and instead invites curiosity and exploration. It feels more expansive.

Read the questions above again and then read the ones below with might added. How does the wording change your thinking?

❓ What ideas might we consider for what we do next?

❓ What might our options be?

❓ Who might be able to help us with this? 

Using ‘might’ seems to signal to people that they aren’t bound by what they say and it’s safe to voice all ideas that come up. It also invites playfulness and creativity and is a great way to get past blocks in thinking.

The new manager tried this with her team. It didn’t open the floodgates of ideas but it did break the ice and was a step towards her team opening up more.

Give it a go in your next team gathering where you need to generate ideas and let me know what happens.

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