There’s a tendency among business owners and managers to supply answers rather than help team members find answers.
There’s a prevailing belief this saves time. While that might be accurate in the short term, this approach actually costs more time over the long run. It also weakens your business and adds to your responsibilities as your team remains dependent upon you for solutions.
Business owners and managers frequently ask me, “How do you teach people to think?” It’s a powerful question that can lead to a significant improvement in results. The answer: By learning to become a mentor and effective communicator who consistently encourages team members to think for themselves.
Thinking is the process of evaluating a situation and then exploring possible actions that will lead to a solution or desired outcome. If you want your company to operate at the highest levels, your team members must be taught it’s acceptable — and continually encouraged — to think their way through situations rather than relying upon you and others for answers or guessing at solutions.
How do you use effective communication to encourage people to think for themselves?
Begin by creating a safe environment for your team members to ask questions. This is accomplished through composure — not becoming angry, condescending, demeaning, disappointed, or frustrated as you work together toward a viable solution. Ensure it’s safe for them to reveal what they don’t know as they work with and learn from you.
People who don’t feel safe asking questions will often guess what action is best to take or take no action at all. This leads to errors that can ripple throughout operations. Accounts aren’t handled effectively, time and resources are wasted, customers become disgruntled and business suffers. This, in turn, will result in more time and resources spent to fix both the error and the relationship with the customer.
Encourage team members to come to you with questions rather than guess about the correct course of action to take. Help team members realize there’s strength in tapping available resources to foster learning and understanding that leads to solutions.
Here’s a critical component to success: Rather than simply telling your team members the correct answers, take time to work with them. Ask them open-ended questions as they explore the situation. This will allow everyone involved to develop greater clarity as you work together for a solution.
Ask team members what possible solutions they see. Continue asking open-ended questions to fully draw out their perspectives. If their perception of the situation isn’t accurate, continue asking questions to help them deduce the solution or send them in the direction of information that holds the solution.
Finally, have them teach you what they learned. This will let you know whether more work is needed and help them further ingrain what they’ve learned.
Over time, you’ll learn how to best mentor each individual. Team members will learn they can collaborate with you to improve their abilities to make sound decisions. This creates a strong bond between you and your team. Your team will become more competent, fewer errors will be made and the company will deliver far better experiences to customers.
Keep in mind most people have been conditioned through a lifetime of experiences in which they were told what to do, who to be, and how to think to rely on others for answers.
When this previous conditioning is understood and overcome, individuals access more of their potential and perform at higher levels.
You have a choice to make about the development of team members: You can either increase their dependency upon you for solutions or empower them to look for and find answers on their own.
When you invest in your team members and their ability to think their way through a given situation to a successful solution, you help them to help themselves. This grows their abilities, lessens their dependence on you for answers, strengthens your business from within, and improves your company’s performance.