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Are You Telling or Asking?

By  Elaine Cercado

“This is what you should do…and what you should not do…”

“How will you approach this situation?”

Do you tend to ask or tell your team members? Each approach has its place and purpose.

When you have a new office equipment or software application, you have to “tell” specific instructions, otherwise, you might get 100 questions or reactions on this subject matter.

How you say things are as, perhaps even more, important as what you say. The critical aspects of communication are the non-verbal language and the context. The tone of voice and body language say it all.

If you tell “do this..” or “don’t do that..” in a condescending tone to team members in the midst of a time-pressured project with multiple stakeholders demanding outputs, the message will likely be received negatively.  This type of “telling” approach breeds resentment, uncooperative attitude and demotivation.

On the other hand, asking your team members is very empowering and motivating. It conveys to people, “Your input is valuable”. Again the way this is said is equally important, and can make the impact more powerful if the non-verbal language is congruent with the verbal language.

Asking though will not work in all situations. When we opened a cake and coffee retail shop, we were very strict about the compliance of our staff for hygiene and for food preparation and handling. The only way to ensure that was to tell exactly the how to’s and then monitor everyone’s compliance.

Notably, how we told our staff was as important as all the procedures and processes we told them to comply with. The empathetic tone of voice and communication approach worked wonderfully with our team, who all did amazing jobs!

As managers, heightened awareness and practice of effective communication will avoid communication  problems, as described below, and will result to desired outcomes.

Thought doesn’t mean TOLD
Told doesn’t mean HEARD  
Heard doesn’t mean UNDERSTOOD
Understood doesn’t mean AGREED
Agreed doesn’t mean ACTIONED
Actioned doesn’t mean RETAINED

As managers, you need to do both – to TELL and to ASK – and to know WHEN and HOW to tell and to ask. The effect is magical! When you are able to discern and do this effectively, your team will feel engaged, empowered and motivated.  And as many studies have shown – highly empowered organizations translate to exceptional business results!