To discover or not to discover? That is the question….!

Discovery:  to find out or to realise something that was not known before.

Discovery involves emptying your head of all preconceived ideas, assumptions and presumptions about the other person and the situation and digging beyond the surface to find out what’s real about the situation.


People are meaning making machines. If it is working well, your brain will take a few clues from the environment and create a story based on you past experiences about what’s real about any given situation.


If your brain works like this, congratulations, it’s doing a great job for you. The danger of this kind of cognitive activity is that it could sometimes prevent you from taking the time to fully explore a situation before you make up your mind about the reason why this situation occurred in the first place.


If the facts are not uncovered and verified, there is a high chance the solution will not be based on what is true for both parties and therefore will be inappropriate for the circumstance. At worst, a poorly constructed solution can leave one or both parties emotionally damaged and can permanently destroy any chance of building up a positive long-term relationship.


Maybe you have a habit of asking only closed questions, those which require only a yes or no answer. While closed questions have their place and can be useful communication tools, they inhibit the free flow of information. Information is vital to for you to gain a total understanding of a situation before you make up your mind about what to do about it.


Closed questions also support the habits of making assumptions and leaping to conclusions. People tend to only ask the questions that they know will get the answers which support assumptions. Once a few shreds of information to support existing perceptions are in place, the mind closes to other possibilities.


Even if other possibilities are clearly spoken you may not hear and comprehend them, because you may have already made up your mind that what you thought in the first place is correct. How many misunderstandings and arguments could be totally avoided if you waited to hear all the facts before you made up your mind? 



The quandary here is that if you launch into a plethora of open questions, questions which require explanations rather than a yes or no, the other person may begin to feel as though you are interrogating them.


The key is to gain permission to ask these questions before you start, and explain why these questions will be asked.


For example:


Bob, at first glance the complaint made by Mrs Barnes seems quite serious. I really want to hear your thoughts about why this happened so I can make the right decision about what to do about it. Would it be OK with you if I asked you some questions to help me understand what’s happened here?


– Bob will probably say yes go ahead, because you have not put any direct accusations on him, nor blamed him for anything. All you are doing is asking his permission to ask questions, and there is very little chance that Bob will react defensively.


Mary, I am about to begin your Performance Review. Before I look at the sales reports, I would like to have a chat with you about how you’re travelling in your role. Would it be all right if I hear your thoughts from you first?



– Everyone is nervous about performance reviews. This approach of asking for Mary to share her thoughts BEFORE the review is done is more likely to have Mary on side, rather than defensive.


Jenny, I have been told you have been leaving early to play golf and not completing your share of the paperwork when I’m not here. Before I go any further, I’d like to hear you side of the story first. Can I ask you a few questions about this?



– Jenny may be the victim of malicious office gossip. She may not be leaving early at all. While you are pretty sure that Jenny is skiving off, it is an assumption and you have no proof. Can you be certain that this leaving early does not have some other explanation? Could it be that Jenny has a very good and reasonable explanation? This approach gives her the chance to give a report rather than having to defend herself if she is faced with an outright accusation.


John, this may seem like a simple error that can easily be corrected, but this is not the best use of your time. So we can work out a way to use your time effectively in future, I’d like to review the process of your job so you spend your time doing things that are productive. Can I ask a few questions about the current process you follow?


– This approach puts you in a position of being alongside John, not standing over him with a stick saying he is bad. It allows John to be a part of the solution not the one who is to blame. John is more likely to co-operate with you than he is to get defensive.


The next step is to ask a question designed to get the other person talking and giving you lots of information.


Open questions start with:


•        why

•        what

•        how



Closed questions start with:


•        who

•        when

•        where



As an example of how closed questions work, read this list below.


When did this happen? …………………. Yesterday


When did you notice the error?…………Yesterday


When did you ask Sally to ring Mrs Banfield?………………Yesterday


Where did the incident take place?……………….on the front counter


Where was John when this happened?………………………..At lunch


Get the picture?…………………………………..Yes


There is another very useful communication tool known as a Directive which helps to get information which may allow you to see the bigger picture before you make a decision about what needs to happen.


A Directive is a command that invites the person to speak at length and give you further information about a topic than they ordinarily would.


Some examples of Directives are:


Tell me about your situation regarding ……


Tell me your thoughts on………………………


Tell me what you think about…………..


Tell me how you feel about…………..


Tell me why you think that…………


Tell me how you……………………


Tell me the story behind………


Talk to me about the reasons why………..


Explain to me what you think about…………….


Describe exactly what happened as you saw it………..


Using a Directive will give the impression you are strong and confident, and also allows you to appear to be concerned and interested. Directive can also has the advantage of buying you some time to think. It is difficult for a person to give a closed response to a Directive.


If the answer to your Directive is “No” it gives you a clear indication that the person you are speaking to is being uncommunicative and unresponsive.


If you are served with a No, follow it up with another directive.


Jenny, your response of No tells me you are feeling uncommunicative. If I am right, this will make reaching a solution we are both happy with very difficult. Tell me what’s going on for you right now.


A word of caution here. The first sentence of this example, if said on it’s own, could sound presumptuous and arrogant. It may damage rapport.


Jenny, your response tells me you are feeling uncommunicative.


If you use this type of communication technique to identify a perceived emotion in another person, it is important to follow it up with the second piece, which is “If I’m right…”


This second part of the communication will build rapport as you have acknowledged that you may have misinterpreted the situation. It also gracefully lets the other person off the hook if they are feeling embarrassed by their earlier poor communication behaviour of bluntly replying with No. They may want to now be more co-operative.


We have briefly mentioned closed questions earlier on. Closed questions are great for clarifying facts and seeking commitment to action.


Closed questions can be very effective when you are clarifying what someone has told you, re-capping on any agreements or deciding to proceed with some type of action.


Bob, what will need to happen now is for you to get the paperwork for Mrs Barnes’ investment and bring it to me so I can see exactly what arrangements have been made. Can you have it to be by 4.00pm?


– Bob can easily state Yes or No as to whether he can manage 4pm.


John, the next time you have to complete this process, I’d like an agreement for you to come and see me so I can watch how you are doing it. That way if I need to arrange for some further training I know exactly what to ask for. Does that sound OK to you?


– If John says Yes, then you have his permission and agreement to come fetch you. If he says No then you may need to ask some more questions.


Jenny, from what you’ve told me, you feel it’s more important to meet with clients on the golf course because it’s a more relaxed environment. I can see your point. Part of your role with us is also to ensure that you are doing your share of the paperwork. When your team members believe this is not happening they may get resentful as it means more work for them. Does what I’m saying make sense to you?


– Here you are affirming Jenny’s commitment to the rapport she is building with her clients, and you are also able to point out the rapport she needs to build with her other team members.


Mary, have I got it right when I say that you think the reason for not achieving your sales target is that it’s hard to sell the OompaLoompa range because of its higher price tag?


– This lets Mary know that you have understood her reasons for the low sales results and you are not putting the blame on her.


Closed questions are best used at the end of a communication to make sure everything has been understood and all parties are clear on what’s going to happen next and who is responsible for it.


Without clarity about what is real, it will be hard to ask the next question, which could be


So how are we going to resolve this issue in a way that everyone’s happy?


Once you have all the facts to hand, you can discuss alternative outcomes and possible solutions until you come up with one that you feel is suitable.





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