Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What floor are you on?

A day had been added to the annual leadership team offsite for some type of team building event. The offsite itself required preparation, travel and days off the “real” job, so the idea of extra time was not thrilling. The hired consultants were coming.

If we were going to go into a jungle, playing a sport or test trust with a daring exercise, that would have seemed like fun. This, though, was mandated from the top and performed in a hotel conference room. To my surprise and delight, I left that session with one tool that I have used every day since - The Senn-Delany “Mood Elevator.” This is a far too simplistic explanation, but my take-away was to start every conversation at the elevator’s mid-point which was “Curious and Interested.” Think about the difference in the way people provide you information when they believe you want to know. Even your ability to ask probing questions improves. “I’m curious why you feel so strongly about topic XYZ.” “I’m interested to understand the benefits of your proposal over the one we already have?” “I’m curious if your teammates feel the same way?”

Do you start your conversations from a position of curiosity? Try it and share how it went.


Jeff Williams said...


This is a crucial and critical aspect of communicating and leading. It is sad but very few conversations are sincere and mutually beneficial to all parties. We are usually being talked at or wrestling with our own thoughts, ideas, opinions and motives - looking for that break where we can interject.

I like the "curiosity" aspect of initiating conversation. I'd expect fantastic results even in argumentation scenarios when you approach discussions this way. I will keep this in mind.

Thank you,


Fred Szibdat said...


Its late, east coast time. So just two quick ideas.

First, Stephen Covey, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood", can't recall what habit it was.

Yes, it works. Was an Auditor and a client/service consultant. And a recent, recommendation, you might want to read on my profile. Noted an ability to be insightful. To me, that insight, comes from being able to understand, where someone is, in the thought process, and what motivates them. And you only get that information, if you are genuinely, interested in what they have to say?

From one Fred, to another

Poly Endrasik Jr. said...

Some similarity to what I took away from Dale Carnegie training. Focus not totally on your agenda and what you want out of the meeting but begin by observing or asking something about the person you are meeting with and the typical "attiude" has a tendency to change for the better.

Charlie Becker said...


I like this and listen very intently to people when they talk to me! People like to know you are listening. It will open a discussion as you will know what people are saying and can respond accordingly.

Clayton Berry said...

I don’t know about the Senn-Delany approach, but I almost always approach my conversations that way anyway, as I’m naturally curious and a problem solver. My background was engineering before going into supply chain and the stereotype fits, engineers try to figure things out first.

As to the information gathering conversation piece you discuss, I can give you good examples of this in reverse. Though this part of my discussion is more focused on someone trying to get specific information, as opposed to more open-ended discussion examples you used.

Quite often in the workplace, people have asked me for some information without disclosure, “Clay, I need to know the total spend we had with supplier X over the last 3 months, and I need it by COB today.” You can substitute the information as you wish, but my first reaction is always the same, “Hey, thanks for including me in your current plan, can you step back for a second and help me understand the entire situation and the exact problem you are trying to solve so I can better help you?”

I’ll leave out the back and forth here, but I can say about 80% of the time the person has asked for the wrong information, and about half of the remaining instances they would need additional data , and moreover, guidance in interpreting and using the data as well.

Thus going back to your original idea, I’d suggest the people who want the information should use the approach, “I have a particular problem, X, and I’m interested in any insights you may have to help solve it”, to make sure they’re asking the right questions in the first place. Note this uses the constructs, Disclosure (“I have a problem, X”), Emotional Connection (“I’m interested in any insights you may have”), and Help (“to help me solve it”). People like to feel you are open and they are included, as you point out an emotional connection helps in many areas of communication, and fundamentally, most people like to help.

Perhaps slightly askew of your original discussion, but I hope it helps someone out there.

Michael Michael said...

Some people keep their eyes fixed on the floor numbers in the Elevator, you can't start anything with them. I noticed, in Hospital Elevaors, because they are slow and stop at each floor, a conversation is angoing, you just get in it.

Don DeCesare said...

John, excellent comments. Thank you...I am sure it will be useful in both business and personal dealings.

Sean Graham said...

This is a fine point, John. It seems to me that approaching a conversation from a "curious" perspective shows the other person that you are actually paying attention to him/her, and this, I think, shows a basic level of respect. Maybe it comes down to something we all probably know on some level, albeit maybe unconscious, in that because time is our most precious commodity, when someone is spending it on us by giving us their undivided attention in conversation, it makes us feel good? Maybe even special and important?

Thanks for sharing this neat experience.

Edward Tierney said...

An observation from a highly capable psychologist friend helped me to understand that many people start their responses with an automatic "no" and then have to brought over to "maybe" and if possible to "yes". This is typically a huge time suck. Your suggestion is to start at "maybe", leaving room to move to either decision. Great!
A positive way to further improve probing questions, to make them less provocative, is to use a "yes, if...." response. Yes, your idea might work if we were able to get in completed by......

Stephen Brignall said...

John - this philosophy does work. It is especially successful with new contacts and acquaintances but does work equally well with seasoned a point.
It also helps should/when you eventually have a difference in opinion regarding the subject as the initial encounter has been an engaging one and both sides generally earn mutual respect.....
It can obviously be abused by those less scrupulous characters who have only 'self' in mind.

Alex Kersha said...

I had the benefit of starting my technology career many years ago in the bowels of Cabletron Systems Inc. in Rhode Island. The first 7 months of employment were spent in conference after conference, training room after training room where we were taught the "consultative selling" process. The main focus was to use parlances in conversation that would better extract information from a potential client about what they needed. Avoid asking questions that are simple yes/no answers, concentrate on listening not talking and consider every question a client asks as a possible problem you can help them solve. These are all things that are well known in the sales world as strategies to get you to close and what I think John, you point out as "curiosity"

Several interesting points here. First I say "needed" because to sell effectively and maintain a client relationship, you are NOT giving a client what they want but fulfilling what they need. The "want" is only short term and will soon be forgotten. Second, as Sean points out this approach brings the client closer because they feel that you are really paying attention, not just running at the mouth. It is far more important to listen than to talk as both a leader and especially a salesperson.

Putting this in perspective with an example I think would be the best way to demonstrate the huge effect a consultative approach has on a client meeting. Consider an opening line trying to sell a leadership coaching package to an executive:

"In today's market you really can't get by without focused training on communication techniques ... "

The consultative approach:
"How do you feel that your communication skills might effect your role as CXO?"

The first approach comes off as little more than a pitch.Easily avoidable and often ignored by a savvy executive. The second is conversational. More importantly, it entices the client to give you much more information rather than just listening to your banter. I placed my comments in the context of selling but of course this can be used for any discussion any where. At the end of th eday, the more genuine interest you show a person in what they're saying or what they need, the more attention you'll get when you help solve those issues.

Alex Kersha

Ken Wolfe said...

Thanks for the link. I am curious if there was any discussion about how to avoid the notion that you are "interrogating" people with your curious questions? Do you find that the "I'm interested" or the "I'm curious" lead in, helps avoid that potential pitfall?

Thanks in advance.

Beulah (Pete) Hancock said...

What kind of lead in would you use to find out about potential opportunities in a company or just to get general information.

Scooterrocks said...

John:As you know big topic for me.another tool in the toolbox.
All in general, thank you for providing the thoughts but also concrete examples. This helps with the application. Clayton...there are those that out here listening(reading) to understand and trying to stop speaking to be understood.

Maureen Johnson said...

Very good suggested conversation approach.

David Ethan Blank said...

I am guilty of not listening well most of the time. I do know that I get my best answers by just Listening first to the person I am talking to an not assuming any agenda

Michael Kotowski said...

John, Clayton -

Thank you John for another "fun" and productive discussion.

Clayton - to hear that you approach matters from an "engineers" perspective AND inject the personal element and extroverted application in seeking "buy-in" with mutual steps towards a developing solution is encouraging, and well, rare to a degree coming from the "e" side! ; )

Without belaboring points, and in respect for the personal and professional time of those that you're interacting with, expressing interest, and sharing what's "in it" for them - their value proposition in the exchange - is vital.

For these simple reasons and foundation, it will always be good people interacting that will resolve the world's (or your company's) issues!


Boyd Falconer said...

Indeed! Thanks for sharing this, John.

Michael Beason said...

Let's relate this subject to physics for a moment. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us that we are surrounded by a sea of energy representing endless possibilities - the zero point field that we mostly consider to be empty space but in fact is a constantly fluctuating field of possible outcomes appearing and disappearing. And all of this perform to our expectations. If we expect to see a particle, we see a particle. If we expect to see a wave, we see a wave. At the sub-atomic level we see what we expect. At the level of the stuff that makes up our universe, what we expect comes into being. (for more, see What the Bleep!)

Applied to everyday interactions, our entire world is constantly created "as we expect" it to be. Now this can lead to an expanding debate wherein everyone poses examples that don't seem to fit this principle but that's because most people will fight to have the world conform to rules they learned when they were children - Newtonian physics, etc. - and will argue to the death to prove that they haven't based their life on a mistake.

Stepping aside from that debate which is mainly waged in the absence of the last 40 years of physics research that is aptly presented in Lynn McTaggart's book, "The Field" - we find that John's perspective is perfectly supported by these new laws of physics.

If we approach an interaction expecting new, exciting things we didn't know, we will most certainly get them. If we expect our interaction to transform the other person's world experience, we are likely to get that. Approaching our world at a very low tone with expectations that we won't see much else besides the ordinary and the mundane produces just that. By the laws of physics it just can't produce anything else.

Werner Erhard is credited with the saying, "In order for things to change for you, you've got to change." But most people will read that and say, "Of course" but miss the change that makes all the difference... a change in the fundamental expectations I have for my day - what's possible in every interaction.

John's sage advice isn't found in posing better questions - but in coming from a place of infinite possibility - a place where expectations will allow the physical universe to produce amazing things in every interaction. After all - it's just physics.

John - keep up the good work! Your constant contributions to LinkedIN are providing food for thought and great learning for thousands of people!

For those who read - remember - the value you derive from anything you read is in direct proportion to how you interact with it. In order to "Engage" in life, you have to get out of the stands and into the game.

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