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How Powerful Questions Expand Our Influence

I count Thomas as one of the top ten most impactful people in my life. When I say impactful, I mean he changed the direction of my life by a few degrees toward the positive. That may not sound like much. However, consider that a rocket ship traveling to the moon that is just one degree off course will miss its target by 4,163 miles. Over the course of a life a few degrees matter a lot, which is why Thomas matters.

I’ll never forget one conversation in particular. I stormed into his office one day to vent my frustration about another department blocking our marketing plans. This was my first real job out of college, and I worked for Thomas. In the spirit of full transparency, I was a hothead back then. I was 25 years old, thought I knew everything, and had a short fuse with anyone who got in my way.

Thomas mostly listened as I relayed what happened. I have no idea how long my rant lasted, but I eventually concluded, and I looked at him for an answer.

“Mike, you seem upset.” That was a gross understatement and not the response I expected. I was so obviously upset that anyone within earshot knew it. I’m sure I must have had a confused look on my face.

In reflecting back on this moment, I can see clearly that he was not asking if I was upset. The truth was he was more aware of my emotional state than I was. Rather, it was his way of calling attention to it. He was asking me to pause and see for myself how upset I was.

His shared observation had the intended outcome. I sheepishly acknowledged the obvious, now somewhat embarrassed by my emotional overreaction. I had half expected him to be just as upset as I was. After-all, they were his plans that were being interrupted! His calm demeanor was disarming to say the least.

And then he asked me a simple but life-altering question. “Mike, how’s that working out for you?” He was now grinning ear-to-ear because he already knew the answer.

Of course, it wasn’t working out for me. That was his point, but he wanted me to arrive at the answer on my own. It was a deeply convicting question in that it forced me to think about the natural consequences of my temper. That was the moment I saw my temper for what it was. Just as importantly, I gained clarity about how my lack of emotional self-control was hurting my influence and getting in the way of my goals.

When we ask people to think for themselves, we engage their hearts and minds. In effect we are saying, "I trust that you have the answer." It is a powerful way to lead and one of the keys to influencing others.

You see, Thomas didn’t just tell me how to fix the situation that triggered my reaction. That would have been easy, but the moment would have been missed. Instead, he was going for something bigger – a shift in my thinking that would only happen with me taking 100% Responsibility. It was a shift that would shape all my interactions from that point forward. It was a defining moment that resulted in a one-degree change in the direction of my life.

Had Thomas skipped the questions and instead lectured me about my temper, I probably would have fallen in line immediately. However, I would have done so begrudgingly. Instead, he chose to use his influence. Influence, by the way, that was built in part by trusting me enough to ask me to think for myself.


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