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Have a clear destination

Fundamental to the art of asking the right questions is knowing exactly what you are look for. When you have a clear idea of what you need, write it down. This gives you a focus and destination, like your preparation before starting a trip. If you have planned the journey and know your destination, you will reach there.

india Updated: Mar 29, 2006 14:41 IST
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Fundamental to the art of asking the right questions is knowing exactly what you are look for. When you have a clear idea of what you need, write it down. This gives you a focus and destination, like your preparation before starting a trip. If you have planned the journey and know your destination, you will reach there.

Even if you have to take a detour, you will land where you want to. Without a clear-cut goal, you can drive for a long time and use a lot of fuel but not end up at the place you really want to. You can always make time for fun it you want to, but the purpose of this is to help you stay on track and reach your goals. Those goals must be apparent to all parties, and your staff will follow your lead.

Unless you are simply making small talk, when you are asking your employees business-related questions, have a definite destination in mind.

You may be thinking, "Everyone asks questions all the time. What's new here?" Although it is true that people habitually make inquiries, often those questions are posed with no plan and without forethought to the reaction they might elicit. Here's a simple example of how the question determines the answer: If you ask someone to describe the biggest problems he/she faces at work, you will receive a list of their woes.

If, on the other hand, you quiz a person about his/her greatest opportunity, you will be told a much different listing. You obtain what you ask for, so be careful how you seek any information.

As a further illustration, the following scene was played out recently in a department store: A woman and her young daughter, probably eight or nine years old, were shopping for a dress for the child. The mother gestured to a rack of dresses and asked, "Which dress do you want?" The little girl smiled and pointed to the garment of her choice. "This one." "Oh, that wouldn't look good on you," said the mother. "The colour and style are all wrong for you."

"But I like it. I think it's nice." The mother picked up another dress. "How about this one? I don't like that one." In the end, the little girl was in tears, her mother was angry with her, and no dress was purchased that day.

What went wrong? The mother asked the wrong question. She asked her daughter to select from a wide variety of options. The mother established a broad, unrestricted range despite the fact that she had already imposed certain limitations herself regarding the clothes’ colour and style. She asked a question and she prompted the child to make a selection. When the child complied, the mother rejected her decision.

There probably would have been little turmoil, if the mother had set a different sequence of events. Since she knew what her acceptable range of choices included, she could have selected three to four dresses that met her criteria and then asked, “Which one of these pretty dresses would you like?"

Which ever of those dresses the little girl picked up would have been acceptable to the mother, and the daughter would have been happy with that. Mother also would have been happy because she had provided guidance and direction. It would have been one of those win-win situations rather than a disaster, because the framing of the question often dictates the outcome.

Courtesy: Becoming a Successful Manager by Jack H. Grossman, and J. Robert Parkinson, published by Tata MacGraw-Hill.