Great managers are great listeners. They know how to probe gently so that reluctant employees open up.
One of the best ways to dig for information from soft-spoken staffers is to ask succinct questions—and then wait in silence for an answer. That sounds simple. But many managers ask wordy, roundabout questions that never seem to end.
We’re prone to pose babbling or incoherent inquiries when we feel uncomfortable raising the topic. We may repeat the question or offer hints of the kind of answers we’re seeking. Worst of all, we may keep talking and change the subject even after attempting to ask a question.
Train yourself to ask one-sentence questions. Watch Brian Lamb, the chief executive of C-SPAN who also hosts Booknotes. He conducts revealing interviews with authors by limiting his probes to one sentence. His guests are sometimes taken aback, but they wind up giving more surprising and substantive answers because he lets them talk.