The first weeks of school will reveal the flaws in your plan, but you may not see them. They may be more obvious to others than to you. These are times when we cannot know everything. Complexity, shifting conditions, and the absence of clear direction are present everywhere. No matter how much effort and attention we give, there is always more that we could or need to know. Consequently, we need strategies to avoid potential blind spots and to avoid hearing only what those around us think we want to hear.
Of course, openness to disagreement and willingness to accept difficult or bad news are important habits to cultivate. Still, unless we take specific steps to ensure that we are hearing what we need to know and pay attention to, we risk overlooking or being shielded from information important to our leadership and the success of the organization, especially in these challenging times.
We can expand and extend the radius of information we receive and process by frequently asking three questions of ourselves and those with whom we regularly interact. First, we can take a direct approach by asking, “What do I not know that you think I need to hear?” This question invites reluctant colleagues to offer insights, perspectives, and information that can expand our knowledge and understanding without having to introduce uncomfortable topics without an invitation. Even in response to this question, we need to listen carefully for what is not being said directly if we want to fully understand what we need to know.
Second, we can pose the question, “What would you ask if you were me?” This question can be used with close colleagues and less familiar members of groups and teams. It is less risky to respond to than the first question, because it does not commit the responder to providing uncomfortable information or challenging our opinions or perspectives. However, it can provide important clues to information and experiences about which we need to learn more.
Third, we can ask ourselves, “What can I glean and learn from the resistance, criticism, and skepticism I am hearing and feeling?” There are reasons behind the behavior of those around us. It can be tempting to dismiss negative feedback, but we often do so at our own peril. Only by taking the time to listen, reflect, and ask clarifying questions can we gain crucial insights that save us from missteps and offer new ways of communicating and leading that represent a path to greater success.