Medium 9781626566330

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life

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NEW EDITION, EXPANDED AND UPDATED

Great Results Begin with Great Questions

In this new expanded edition of her classic international bestseller, Marilee Adams shows how the kinds of questions we ask shape our thinking and can be the root cause of many personal and organizational problems. She uses a highly instructive and entertaining story to show how to quickly recognize any undermining questions that pop into your mind—or out of your mouth—and reframe them to achieve amazingly positive and practical results. The third edition includes a new introduction and epilogue and two powerful new tools that show how Question Thinking can dramatically improve coaching and leadership. Based on Adams's decades of research and experience, this book can make a life-transforming difference—as it already has for many thousands of people around the world.

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12 Chapters

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1. Moment of Truth

ePub

If we would have new knowledge, we must get us a whole new world of new questions.

Susanne K. Langer

A rosewood paperweight on my desk bears a sterling silver plaque declaring: Great results begin with great questions. It was a gift from a very special person in my life—Joseph S. Edwards—who introduced me to Question Thinking, or QT, as he called the skills he taught me. QT opened up a part of my mind that otherwise I might never have discovered. Like everyone else, I believed the way to fix a problem was to look for the right answers. Instead, Joseph showed me that the best way to solve a problem is to first come up with better questions. The skills he taught me rescued my career and saved my marriage as well. Both were definitely in trouble at the time.

It all started when I was invited to take a position at QTec. The company was in the midst of a major overhaul at the time, and the word on the street was that, barring a miracle, they would fold before the year was out. A friend warned me that accepting a position with QTec would be like signing up to crew on a sinking ship. What convinced me to take the risk? It was my trust in Alexa Harte, the recently appointed CEO at QTec, who’d offered me the position. I’d worked with her for years at KB Corp., my previous employer, where she’d won my respect as a gifted leader. Her confidence about turning QTec around was infectious. Besides, she promised me a great promotion: hefty pay raise, impressive title, and a chance to lead a team in developing an innovative new product. If everything went well the risk would pay off in aces. If not . . . well, I tried not to think about that.

 

2. A Challenge Accepted

ePub

What got you here won’t get you there.

Marshall Goldsmith

My appointment with Joseph S. Edwards was at ten the next morning. I didn’t tell Grace about this meeting or about my conversation with Alexa. And I certainly didn’t tell her about writing my resignation. Admitting I was in trouble had never come easily. I preferred working things out on my own. For some time now I’d been stonewalling Grace and feeling more and more resentful about her constant questions about what was going on with me. Until I found the right answers and solutions I was determined to tough it out and keep my problems to myself. But as usually happened with Grace, I wasn’t so good at hiding my problems.

I should have realized that she knew something more than the usual job stress was bothering me. That morning, on our way to the airport, where Grace was catching a plane for a lunch meeting in another city, she brought things to a head. As I pulled up to the curb at the terminal, she told me, “I’ve been feeling like a widow lately. You’ve been so distant and moody. Ben, if you want a real partnership with me, you’re going to have to make some changes.”

 

3. The Choice Map

ePub

Maps don’t just help us locate where we are but where we are coming from and where we might be going.

Gabrielle Roth

When we resumed our conversation, Joseph pointed to a mural on his office wall. I’d noticed it before but hadn’t paid much attention to it. “This is the Choice Map,” he explained. (It appears later in this chapter.) “It helps us to become better observers of the two basic paths we take in life—the Learner Mindset path and the Judger Mindset path. As the name implies, the map is all about our ability to make choices. On the left side of the Choice Map, notice the figure standing above the Start arrow, at the crossroads between the two paths. That figure represents you and me—every one of us. In every moment of our lives we’re faced with choosing between the Learner Mindset path and the Judger Mindset path. Now look at the thought bubble above the other figures’ heads. Note how there’s a relationship between the kinds of questions these people ask, the path they’re on, and where each path takes them.”

 

4. We’re All Recovering Judgers

ePub

There is a crucial difference between being caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are being swept away by it. Socrates’ injunction “know thyself” speaks to this keystone of emotional intelligence: awareness of one’s own feelings as they occur.

Daniel Goleman 11

We took a short break while Joseph went off to get us fresh coffee from the kitchenette adjacent to his office. He was gone long enough for me to check my phone for texts and voice messages. There was a voice message from Grace. It was about her young assistant, Jennifer, who had messed up on yet another assignment. “I’ve just got to vent,” Grace was saying. “I feel like I’m two seconds from firing her. Can you call me right back?” I clicked off my phone. Why was Grace bothering me at work? Couldn’t she handle Jennifer by herself? Did she think I needed her problems on top of mine? My jaw and shoulders clenched up.

Just then Joseph returned with a tray that held two full coffee mugs and containers of cream and sugar. I took a mug and some cream, glad to focus on stirring what was in my cup. I needed to settle myself down so I could listen to what Joseph was starting to tell me. He was back to his story about the superintendent.

 

5. Kitchen Talk

ePub

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty “yes” to your adventure.

Joseph Campbell

It was early in the morning when Grace found the Choice Map I had stuck on the refrigerator door the night before. As usual, I awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and made my way downstairs to the kitchen. Grace is always up before me. She’s one of those people who wakes up cheerful and enthusiastic about each new day. I’m just the opposite, and I know it sometimes puts Grace on edge. She claims that I’m like a bear coming out of hibernation in the morning. I don’t think I’m quite that bad, but I don’t exactly start the day off with a song in my heart.

As I entered the kitchen, I found Grace standing in front of the refrigerator with her back to me. She appeared to be engrossed with the Choice Map. I was immediately worried about what she might to say. I was pretty sure she’d start probing, and I’d have to tell her the whole thing—about my trouble at work and all the rest of it. That would lead to how I’d gotten the Choice Map and why I’d posted it on the refrigerator. Then I might have to tell her about why Alexa had referred me to Joseph, and that could turn into an emotional minefield.

 

6. Switching Questions

ePub

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl

As I stepped off the elevator at the Pearl Building, I found Joseph watering his ficus trees with a large red watering can. It surprised me to see him doing something I would have handed off to my staff. He turned to me with a friendly smile. “I love having plants around. It’s a daily reminder that all living things require our attention,” he said. “No office should be without at least a plant or two. My wife, Sarah, is the gardener in our family. She says plants force you to ask yourself questions. Are they getting enough water, enough sun? Do they need a little pruning? Do they need special nutrients? They thrive on questions, just as we humans do.” He quickly finished his gardening chores and we went inside.

“When we finished our last meeting, we were talking about the Choice Map and what it tells us about Learner and Judger mindsets,” Joseph began. “Have you had any further thoughts about any of this?”

 

7. See with New Eyes, Hear with New Ears

ePub

Authentic listening is not easy. We hear the words, but rarely do we really slow down to listen and to squint with our ears, to hear the emotions, fears, and underlying concerns.

Kevin Cashman

We started our next meeting with a question that had been disturbing me since early in my conversations with Joseph. “Maybe it’s just wishful thinking,” I began, “but given the problems Judger throws our way . . .”

Joseph lifted his hand, signaling me to stop, and replied, “None of us can avoid slipping into Judger from time to time. It’s only human.” Then he smiled enigmatically and added, “But you can free yourself from Judger by simply accepting that part of yourself. Judger is not the problem; it’s how we relate to Judger that makes all the difference. It’s such a simple formula: Judger-Switch-Learner. But nobody can make it work without beginning with acceptance.

“Huh? That doesn’t make sense. How can I be free of something that’s part of me?”

 

8. Learner Teams and Judger Teams

ePub

It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do.

Margaret J. Wheatley

During our break, I started remembering what it had been like to work at KB. It had been very different from what I was now experiencing at QTec. When I compared the two experiences—KB versus QTec—there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that at KB I had mostly been in Learner. As a research engineer and head tech guy, I did most of my work alone, then reported my findings to the team, taking their questions and providing answers. It was easy to be in Learner most of the time. By contrast, at QTec it was apparent that I was in Judger more often than I cared to admit. No matter where I looked, especially with my team, something seemed to be going wrong or somebody was failing to do what they were supposed to. How could I avoid going into Judger? As Joseph and I continued our meeting that day, I hesitantly shared this observation with him and said, “I’m not sure where to take it from here.”

 

9. When the Magic Works

ePub

When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world.

Carol S. Dweck

Over breakfast a few days later, Grace told me about what had happened with Jennifer, the young woman she’d been having so much trouble with at work. Grace even apologized for calling me during the day just to vent.

“I kept the Choice Map on my desk all day,” Grace said. “Two Learner questions kept jumping out at me—What do I want for myself, for others, and for the situation? And What are my choices? When I applied those questions to Jennifer, I realized I wanted her to start showing more common sense and initiative. So, I tried some new questions. I asked myself Why does Jennifer need so much direction from me? I became truly curious after I realized I didn’t know. Was she afraid of acting on her own? Or worried that I’d fire her for making a mistake? I also wondered whether she had more going for her than I’d given her credit for. The next time she came to me for help I asked her a question instead of just giving her instructions. I inquired with real curiosity, ‘How would you solve this problem if you were the boss?’

 

10. Q-Storming® to the Rescue

ePub

Collaboration is vital to sustain what we call profound or really deep change, because without it, organizations are just overwhelmed by the forces of the status quo.

Peter Senge

With less than half an hour to get ready for my appointment with Charles, I went into self-coaching mode and focused on the three questions Joseph had given me that morning: What assumptions am I making? How else might I think about this? And, What is the other person thinking, feeling, and wanting?

Then my secretary buzzed, announcing Charles’s arrival. In the past, I would have kept him waiting. Today, I immediately got up and met him at the door. We shook hands, and I asked him how he was doing. He replied that he was fine, but he looked a little nervous. At least I wasn’t the only one! When I originally made the appointment with him, I’d been all set for a showdown. But that was before my meetings with Joseph. Since then, my perspective on the problems between us had changed considerably. I offered him a comfortable chair and asked if he’d like coffee or anything to drink. That must have surprised him, because I’d never done that in the past. He thanked me but said he was fine, holding up a small bottle of water he’d brought along.

 

11. Amour! Amour!

ePub

Out beyond right doing and wrong doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Rumi

That night, charged up by all that had happened in the meetings with Alexa and Charles, I worked late. In fact, I worked till long after dark, making notes for the meeting the next morning with Charles and the team. I also sent an email to Alexa to check on Joseph’s availability for meeting with us within the next few weeks. Time raced by. When I remembered to check the clock it was two hours past the time I told Grace I’d be home. I considered calling but figured she’d be in bed sound asleep, so I decided not to disturb her. On the way home in the car I noticed it was going on eleven o’clock.

When I walked in the house I found Grace sitting alone in the dimly lit living room. She was in her pajamas, reading by a single lamp beside her chair. The moment I greeted her, I knew something was wrong. She silently set aside her book, walked up to me, took my hand, led me over to the sofa and gently told me to sit down. I sat, half expecting her to announce that someone had died—or that she was leaving me. She perched herself on the arm of the overstuffed chair across from me, leaned slightly forward and gazed into my eyes. This was going to be serious.

 

12. The Bottom Line

ePub

Creativity is bound up in our ability to find new ways around old problems.

Martin Seligman

Sitting at my desk this afternoon, I leaned back in my chair and reflected on all we had accomplished at QTec in the recent past. In my right hand I held the rosewood paperweight Joseph had given me several years ago. Once again I read the words on its sterling silver plaque: Great results begin with great questions. Those words and everything I’d learned from Joseph had become my inner compass. Question Thinking had opened up a part of my mind I might never have otherwise discovered, guiding me safely through some pretty rough terrain.

My mind drifted back to that dark day when I drafted my resignation letter, certain I hadn’t lived up to Alexa’s expectations and believing that she wanted to let me go. I had prepared a careful statement, thanking her for the trust she’d placed in me and acknowledging I wasn’t the right person for the job. I just didn’t have the leadership skills she was looking for, and I didn’t know where to even start developing them. While mentally rehearsing how I would handle the actual meeting with her, Judger questions had filled my mind: What was wrong with me? What had made me think I could succeed as a leader? How could I tell Grace I had screwed up so badly?

 

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