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Asking Questions Conversations Growth Leadership Life Thinking

Why would you like people to think for themselves?

Before we act and do, we have to think first. Because what you do is who you are. That’s how this world works. You need time to think. And so do your people.

Would you like people to think for themselves?

I guess the answer is yes. Whether we’re a parent, a partner, a team member, or a leader, I hope you sincerely intend to let people make up their minds.

At this point, I pause to let you think about the question above before I continue.

Why is it then that all of us, daily and multiple times, interrupt people’s words and thinking? 

Pay attention for a day and watch how often others or you interrupt people. It’s beyond painful.

Nancy Kline, author of the book “The Promise That Changes Everything,” claims that she’s convinced that divorce rates would go down if couples do a better job not interrupting each other and letting their partner think for themselves. 

Don’t get me wrong. Because I write it down here, it doesn’t mean I’m good at it. I suck at it myself. When I get excited about something, feel judged, or unfairly treated (in my eyes), I get defensive and want to jump in. It’s a reflex that is very hard to unlearn. My family frequently reminds me of this because they know I care a lot about listening with intention and without interruption.

Another example. We talk more in statements than questions. We’re so eager to provide people with our thoughts that we talk and talk and talk. Even in circles. To the level that we sometimes even think that someone doesn’t speak enough.

If you think someone is not talking enough, it may be time to consider that you’re actually talking too much.

If we’re committed to understanding people’s thinking, we should ask more questions and talk less in statements. Also, here, we need to unlearn the habit of talking and talking and talking instead of just asking the right question and then shutting up.

And let silence do the heavy lifting.

This brings me to the last example, which is connected to the point before. Why are we so uncomfortable when people need time to think, and a painful silence occurs? 

Challenge yourself and do a little experiment. When you’re in a meeting following and presenting to an audience, ask them a great question you would like them to answer. And then watch what happens inside of you when there’s silence. The silence of people thinking before they answer your question. How comfortable is that silence for you? 

How long can it last before you start answering your own questions?

This happens all the time around us. We ask a question, but we don’t wait for the answer. We answer the question ourselves. And eventually, we even stop answering the question and make it a statement immediately. More efficient, we think. But did we engage our audience and make them think for themselves?

Here’s what we need to unlearn when we have the intention to let people think for themselves:

  • Stop interrupting people’s words and thoughts.
  • Stop talking in statements; Ask better questions instead.
  • Stop the urge to start talking when there’s silence.

Stop!

These commitments to unlearn bad habits will help us become more effective individuals and better leaders.

Stop. Think. Act.

In my Insight, ‘The Great Pause,’ I introduced the principle of creating a pause. I included this quote:

Pausing doesn’t mean you close your business for a month and start thinking about the future. It does mean that you find a way to reinvent yourself and figure out a future that maximizes your chances of success in a wild and fast-changing world.

Here’s why all this talking about thinking matters for your growth.

Before we act and do, we have to think first. Because what you do is who you are. That’s how this world works. You need time to think. And so do your people.

If you want to be considered an inspiring and empowering leader, you must act as an inspiring and empowering leader. Nobody will ever, ever, ever consider you such a leader (and perhaps not even a leader) if you constantly interrupt, always talk in statements, never ask questions, and never allow people to think for themselves.

If we’re clear about who we want to be, then we have to align what we do with who we would like to be. 

That’s how we start moving from being to doing to becoming. 

That’s how you find your voice as an effective individual.

Next, I want you to think briefly about the best leaders you have ever worked with. If you can’t think of anyone you know personally, think about a famous leader. 

Who were they that made them great? What did they do that made them great? What can you learn from them as a human being and a human doing?

Let’s reverse the questions. 

Next, I want you to think about the worst leader you have ever worked with. If you can’t think of anyone you know personally, think about a notoriously lousy leader. 

Who were they that made them considered bad leaders? What did they do that made them wrong? What can you learn from those bad leaders you won’t like to repeat yourself?

There are two reasons why I have invested a significant of time in ‘Being yourself first’ over the past few weeks.

First, you will never be a good leader if you don’t know who you are and don’t know your leadership voice.

Second, it helps you to have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect of you.

This second point is among the five regrets people often express before dying. Here’s a quote from an article about this topic.

“The most common regret was having the courage to live true to yourself. When people realize their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.

Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize until they no longer have it.”

Bronnie Ware

It’s time to wake up to your possibilities and live a life true to yourself.

To make those decisions, you need time to think. Time to think about your choices.

If you want to become a great human being and a leader people admire, you will need to make choices. Choices is the topic for next week.

Your turn: What are you thinking?

Erikjan

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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