Want to Change Employee Behavior? Try These Questions.

BY C. Lee Smith
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As managers, we know it’s important to listen to what our team members tell us. We also know it can be hard to get people to open up about what they are thinking. You might have more success getting people to talk if you start a conversation with the right kinds of questions. That’s where, Aileen Gibb, a professional leadership coach and the author of “Asking Great Questions: An Essential Companion for Every Leader,” can help. She shared her secrets with us during a recent Manage Smarter podcast.

Simple, Honest Questions

Managers often feel like they need to know all the answers. They’re afraid to show that they might have something to learn. The truth is, when you open yourself up and show you’re willing to learn from a team member, you’ll get a straight answer and you’ll build credibility. 

The next time a project doesn’t go as planned, don’t assume that your employees were slacking or not paying attention. And if this kind of outcome is a repeated pattern, you want to shift employee behavior. Do so by showing honest curiosity. When your team member explains why they would like to complete something, but have failed, use the Gibb approach and ask, “What’s stopping you?” 

This kind of question forces your team member to distance themselves from the situation and think about what’s really wrong. 

Supportive Questions

The simple, honest style question is a great way to open a conversation and get an employee thinking. We all know the next step is to encourage them to change behavior. If you’ve got an employee with great potential, and that person’s consistently falling short of what they’ve promised to do, it’s time to develop their self-​awareness with an additional type of question. Gibb likes questions that “are supportive, building possibilities, opening up people’s ideas.” 

Maybe you’re dealing with a customer service agent who has been curt with your best clients. And, maybe these clients are not very courteous themselves. Here, you need to talk over the situation with your employee and get them to see they’re doing the same thing over and over again, with the same undesirable outcome. 

Work one of your supportive questions into your conversation or one-​on-​one meeting at least three or four times. The goal of this strategy is to get your team member to “explore their thinking on a deeper level” and encourage them to try something different. You want them to think, “Why don’t I try it?” as they fall asleep at night. And, the next time that rude client calls, your employee may engage with more self-​awareness. Maybe they'll ignore the client's insults and will be unfailingly polite.