Asking Powerful Questions

Questions

An important part of conversation and communication in general is the need to ask questions.  This is a way to show the other person that you listen and that you care.  The asking enables you to go deeper.

There is so much small talk in daily life.  It is essential but not sufficient.  How long can you talk about the sports scores or the weather?  Deeper questions allow us to form deeper relationships and engage in life-long learning.

It is important to ask open-ended questions; those are ones that don’t have simple yes/no answers.  Here are some examples of deep, open-ended questions.  They are from the book, Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stoltzfus.

  • If you could invest the rest of your life and know you could change one thing in the world around you, what would it be? What led you to choose that?
  • If you had unlimited resources and couldn’t fail, what would you set out to do?
  • What are your most outstanding personality traits?
  • Of all the roles you’ve been in, which ones were the best fit? Why?
  • If you had a year to live, what would be most important to you to do and be in that time?”
  • What makes your heart sing?

Asking questions is a sign of respect.  If done well, the other person feels valued and the relationship grows.  Try finding some new questions to routinely ask others instead of “what do you do for a living”.

Weakness, Mistakes and Malice

Mistakes

The phrase “live to your potential”, is a motivating one for me.  This can be said in different ways.  A friend says, “live your best life”.  Matthew Kelly, one of my favorite authors says, “become the best version of yourself”.  Potential reflects abilities, growth and how our time is spent (or invested).  It reflects what is and what can be.

We prevent ourselves from living (growing, contributing, serving) fully in different ways:

  • Weakness is related to character. It is choosing to not live by certain values or having loose personal boundaries.  Examples are procrastination or not being able to make a crucial decision.  It may simply be focusing on short-term wants vs. long-term needs.
  • Mistakes are accidents, maybe a decision from ignorance, lack of skill or focus. Luck can fit into this category; being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Mistakes are a part of life.  If we allow ourselves to learn from them they are only short-term setbacks.
  • Malice is choosing ill will, getting revenge or choosing to hurt someone with words or deeds. Some might say that it is living by non-altruistic values.

Living to our potential is about putting our life plan into action.  How do you choose to spend your 168 hours per week?  How do you balance relaxation, fun, necessary or interesting activity and satisfying or meaningful work?  Address the weakness, mistakes and malice in your life.  Let your purpose, vision and goals guide you.

Survive or Thrive?

Thrive

We all have desires, dreams, hopes or wishes.  Do you know yours?  We need to satisfy three levels:

  • Needs to survive. This includes food, clothing, shelter and transportation.
  • Needs to thrive. This is the part about knowing yourself deeply, the things that need to be in place to live to your purpose and potential.  I would add belonging and love to this list.  The key word is need.
  • Other wants. This is everything else and includes “stuff” like material possessions, promotions and experiences.

Going deeper on the need to thrive, I want to offer “heart, mind, body and soul” as a context.  Said differently, what are your emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs?  We each have a unique mix of needs to satisfy to thrive.

Here are some examples:

  • Heart. Being in a relationship and knowing that you are loved for who you are.  Having an emotional connection with a friend or person in need.  Feeling empathy and compassion.
  • Mind. Learning something new.  Goal setting and accomplishment.  Solving problems for yourself or others.
  • Body. Taking care of yourself to avoid illness or eating well to maintain high energy.
  • Soul. Having a relationship with God.  Having some personal time to enjoy what you love without the demands of daily life.  Silence and time to reflect.

Don’t just fill up your time with activities; learn to thrive.  Take a few minutes and capture your needs to thrive on paper.  When you truly understand them, set goals and act to achieve them.

Manage Your Time (Part 3 of 3) – Events

Time

Events can be meetings, time reserved to work on a task, taking the kids to a sporting event or an anniversary.  Some are all-day; others are for a specific amount of time.  Some get added seemingly on a random basis, others become a regular weekly or monthly activity.

Here are some ways to use the Calendar feature:

  • Set an anniversary or birthday as an all-day event.  Add-in the holiday’s and birthdays for the entire year.
  • Reserve time to work on an important task or to simply think.
  • Color-code the events to distinguish time at work, family or house-related things.
  • Integrate multiple calendars into a single view.
  • Keep a family calendar so that each family member sees the others’ schedules.
  • Don’t fill up the hour.  Schedule 30 or 45 minute meetings and practice the efficiency of shorter meetings.
  • Schedule time for taking care of yourself…heart, mind, body and soul.  Look ahead to reserve a day or a week off from work.
  • Work in the cloud so that your schedule is portable.

Look at your calendar for the week ahead to make sure you’re spending time the way you really want to; cancel or reschedule the less important events.  Living to your potential means that you maximize how you spend your time toward your goals and values.  Adherence to your calendar schedule is also a sign of respect.  We show people we value them when we simply get together and when show up on time.

 

Manage Your Time (Part 2 of 3) – Relationships

Time

“Surround yourself with people who make you a better person”. 

Everyone has an address book or contact list on their phone.  Mine currently has over 700 names.  How do you keep track of who is important?  I hope you agree with me that your Facebook “friends” aren’t all equally important and that’s it’s sometimes better to pick up the phone and talk or have a meal together.

You can use various contact managers but I like Microsoft Outlook (part of my Office 365 subscription).  Contact management is simply using an app to decide when to contact people and capture what was talked about.  It is a way to prioritize and remember.  A feature I like is the “timeline”; you can see a history of texts and e-mails just by selecting a person’s name.

Here is the basic idea:  I have a friend who has moved out of town.  I simply “flag” his name and give it a due date and it immediately shows up on my to-do list.  When that day arrives, I can choose to e-mail or call or just push it out to another date.  Others, like my siblings and children are permanently flagged.

Keep one list for family, home and work.  Look at the names from time-to-time and edit them; some contacts get deleted, others get acted upon.  We have many life roles and many people who are part of our life including family, friends, and co-workers.  Invest in relationships that you choose as important.  Show them by your actions that they are important.

Manage Your Time (Part 1 of 3) – Tasks

Time

We are bombarded with things that require our attention or action.  How do you choose what to act on?  How do you keep track of commitments and deadlines?  Living to your potential requires a personal system to manage tasks.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Make a list. You can do this in a physical planner, on paper or index cards or with software.  I like the “to-do” apps because items are easily changeable and can be carried on your phone.  Learn to “say no” so that some things never make it to the list.
  • Categorize. Assign categories such as family, house and work.  Keep only one list that combines work and home activities.
  • Prioritize. The high priority actions should be consistent with your Goals and Purpose.
  • Set due dates. Some tasks have obvious due dates, e.g. planning a birthday party or meeting a customer due date, others may be flexible and solely driven by you.  Some tasks are recurring.
  • Plan each day. Take five minutes each day to decide what needs your time and attention.  I like to do this each evening so that I can immediately get started in the morning.
  • Take action. You don’t have to be a slave to the list but accomplishing one (or more) important tasks each day can transform your life. Avoid procrastination.

There are many ways to do task management.  Experiment and find the one that’s right for you, one that balances effectiveness and simplicity.

 

Make Empathy a Habit

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  It is temporarily stepping into their situation and attempting to think, feel and experience what another is feeling.  It is related to but not the same as sympathy which is feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

Empathy can be learned.  It starts with becoming mindful but is built on a curiosity to consider an alternate viewpoint.  You listen and become available without needing to solve a problem.  You suspend judgement.  Comfort is offered.  It can be a spiritual experience. Empathy is an essential life skill and habit.

As a parent, you may wonder “what is the crying baby feeling?” or “why is my teen moody?”  It’s important as a volunteer and as a manager.  It is an important skill in any role and a wonderful way to build closer relationships.  Empathy is easier if you have a similar experience.  I know what it’s like to lose a parent but not a child.  I know what it’s like to be a dad but not a mom.  That doesn’t mean I can’t try to better understand.

Empathy is one of those life skills that can change the world.  Imagine stepping into the shoes of a migrant worker, or someone in a wheelchair, or someone from the other political party.  Our judging mind tends to exclude others who are not like us.  What if we shifted our mindset to one of understanding?

This blog was inspired by my recent reading of the book Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It by Roman Krznaric.