10 Courageous Conversation Questions You Can Apply at Work

You’re too intimidated to have that overdue conversation at work so you utilize a form of ambiguity that keeps everyone guessing? You’re a manager whose style of managing is hands-off. This way you don’t have to suggest ideas that might offend, be misunderstood, or be accountable.

Whether you’re a manager, human resource director or CEO, you are often required (hard-pressed) to engage in the awkward, elusive, or tight rope conversations that require an element of courage. These types of “challenging” conversations test us in an uncomfortable way.

Why? Because the exchange is more than just applying candor (a cousin to courage) or being brutally blunt (“Let me be honest with you…”).

Remember the old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This timeworn saying is false. For example, “a stone is thrown” when someone says, “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done!” With the phrase “I don’t care” the receiver is most likely going to have an internal breakdown at work and then one at home. We all want to feel appreciated and valued for our contribution.

Because words are so powerful, they can hurt you, but they can also get you positive results at work, such as bench-marked accountability, increased productivity, improved morale, enhanced project effectiveness, a renewed demeanor and reduced stress, to name a few. Most of the time, the best results come about when you ask a lot of “you” questions steeped around one of the twelve obstacles that blocks courageous leadership conversations such as ambiguity, intimidation, manipulation, or blame.

If you can communicate more effectively with coworkers, you can reshape your work environment and produce the sustainable results you’re seeking. Muster the courage to try these ten simple courageous conversation questions and see if they recalibrate your approach to leadership:

  1. “How do you imagine this project progressing?” This question not only engages the person but also decreases stress because creativity and curiosity are being generated which motivates people to speak up and share their ideas. Ideas are an important part of human capital and using the word imagine boosts productivity.
  2. “Is there anything else I can offer you?” and “Do you have any other requests? Requests and offers allow people to open up and reveal the “chatter” in their head (and share what they really want), thus providing transparency in everyone’s communication and removing any awkwardness if someone ordinarily feels reluctant to share their ideas.
  3. “What was your assessment about the big project we just finished for that client?” Be cautious with your tone. This means you take responsibility for how your language affects others. Your words are a part of your daily legacy—people remember them more than the action. Will you be remembered the way you want to be remembered?
  4. “How do you envision accomplishing the task/results?” This question keeps passion alive and perpetuates innovation.
  5. Because we’re human, we naturally expect the receiver to know exactly what we presume in the outcome and what we mean. Be direct and say, “I have expectations that you will do this and that.” Conversely, “What expectations do you have of me?” The outcome of unclear expectations: wasted time that can’t be reclaimed and unnecessary tension in the workplace.
  6. The founder of my Newfield Network coaching organization always opened our international conferences or local gatherings with “What’s cooking?” This question kicks off an understanding that it was safe to share what was internally going on with an attendee allowing them to display their courage. This creates the “mood” for receptivity. How do you kick off a meeting?
  7. If you are working with a prospect/business partner/project manager try, “What do you see our next step to be?” Using the word “our” in your question leads the client/customer to think of you as a partner when making a decision.
  8. First red flag warnings are everywhere. If you don’t stop and acknowledge the first one you’ve probably slid blindly into denial. Denial is saying “no” to courage. Stop and reflect, then ask this critical question: “In retrospect, were there any red flags during our project/interaction that we were blind to?”
  9. “What single task would you consider the most significant contribution in completing this project?” This reveals the individual’s passion and what gives them self-fulfillment.
  10. Set a tone of celebration to acknowledge courageous leadership actions. Ask this question: Why were we successful? Benchmarking your success allows you to confirm how you were not stuck in status quo. Frequently questioning your status quo moves you from the dominant “mind-will” that produces StuckThinking™ to the heartfelt will of everyday courage. Without clear intentions, leadership often succumbs to fear and seeks only to maintain the status quo.

Comedian Lily Tomlin said, “If you can’t be direct, why be?” Think about what type of language you experience in your work environment and what you display. The courageous conversations we choose can submerge us into negativity or elevate us to a different level of courage consciousness—and take our coworkers with us. That is the power of courageous questions!

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