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Managers Gain More By Asking Questions

March 18th, 2020

To be a better manager, ask don't tell. More specifically, ask questions of your team.

If that seems inconsistent with projecting strong, decisive leadership, it can be, if your questions suggest a lack of homework or are manipulative. But managers whose questions are honest attempts at understanding or express curiosity were considered more trustworthy and more credible as leaders.

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Research soon to be published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes suggests that leaders have more to gain by asking questions than they might lose in perceived competence. In a series of surveys, researchers found that managers who asked questions were rated as more trustworthy and participants were more willing to help.

New managers whose qualifications were unfamiliar or limited did indeed suffer a loss of perceived competence by asking questions. But that was much less than for those who outright admitted ignorance and it was counterbalanced by an increase in perceived humility. Leaders with strong credentials only gained by asking questions.

The increase in how survey respondents regarded these question-asking managers has broad organizational implications, according to a discussion of the research by co-author Natalia Karelaia, INSEAD associate professor of decision sciences. Writing on the INSEAD blog, she said relational humility, which is what the questioning demonstrated, "is associated with increased leader effectiveness and translates into increased employee engagement and performance."

"These findings," she says, "Contradict the common assumption that the relationship-building benefits of asking questions will always be nullified by a decline in perceived competence. Rather, leaders who frequently ask questions before making decisions can strengthen their interpersonal relationships, while simultaneously improving problem-solving as well as leadership performance."

Image by Dean Moriarty

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