Subtle Changes Make a Huge Difference
The ideas for these posts come from all over the place and from people who hail from many different locations.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that in the past year or so, a bunch of them have come from webinars or other virtual settings.
This one comes from a webinar hosted by someone I never met, but whose two guests are both friends of mine, even though I’ve only actually met one of them in person.
It was yet another instance where upon hearing a certain sentence, I immediately jotted it down so that I could properly recall it for use as inspiration here.
Not an African Proverb
One of my favourite posts here over the years, which I also recorded as a video, was If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone; If You Want to Go Far, Go Together.
The lengthy title there is also an African proverb, which served as my inspiration. This week my inspiration comes from Africa once again, but it was from a story told by Nike Anani, a friend I’ve yet to meet in person, from Nigeria.
Nike was a webinar guest, along with Mitzi Perdue, who I have met, and she was relating an early experience of hers as a member of her family business.
Nike had recently returned home to join the business, after working in the corporate world in the UK. Her return to a smaller, less professional work environment required some adjustment.
As she put it, soon after arriving, she began “Questioning everything”. She elaborated, making it clear that her attitude in those early days was less than ideal, and she was not simply asking questions.
While noticing the self-awareness required to recognize this in retrospect, I also made sure to capture the spirit she was conveying about her feeling of superiority based on her corporate experience, and how she was dismayed by how things were being done in the FamBiz.
With the benefit of some hindsight and added maturity, she now realizes how important it is to ask questions, grounded in genuine curiosity, rather than “questioning” how everything was being done.
Different Kinds of Questions
Courtroom drama fans and politics junkies are familiar with many techniques of asking questions that are really more about getting their point across.
When thinking about this I also flash back to days when my own kids were much younger and also employed dubious questioning techniques of each other.
I distinctly recall exchanges including, “What? I was only asking a question!”, to which I’d reply “Yes, I know, but ‘why do you always have to be such an A-hole’ is also ‘Just a question’ too”.
I suppose that in many ways that was in fact a rhetorical question on my part, but I digress.
Better Questions Require an Absence of Judgement
I’m pretty sure that if pressed, Nike would admit that most of her “questioning” in those early days was also accompanied by a whole lot of prejudgement, where she had already assumed that she knew better than the person to whom she was addressing her comments.
The best questions, as she now realizes, are founded in true curiosity, and in fact include a complete absence of judgement.
Here I’m addressing not only “prejudgement”, but also any judgement when one hears the answer. See Judgement, Not Judgement.
One of the first big takeaways from my coaching training is that “listening without judgement” is the first thing you need to practice and train yourself to do to be successful.
The Family Governance Angle
As we move to wrap this up, I want to look at this topic from the other angle, i.e. the ones who are on the receiving end of the questions, or the questioning, as the case may be.
Most families have what I call an “information asymmetry”, where there are certain members who are in the know and who control much of the day-to-day activity, and others who act as “interested bystanders” much of the time.
The “bystanders” will often have questions, and the insiders do typically “owe” them answers, in many respects.
Insofar as the insiders are able to provide coherent answers, they will also minimize and forestall the potential for questioning from these other stakeholders.
If the attitude of “how dare you question me” is replaced by one resembling “of course you can ask”, that is a recipe for more harmonious relationships going forward.
No question about it!