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Gain compliance by asking questions

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Brian Grazer is a movie producer. But his real job is questioner.

Grazer, 64, has learned over his three decades in the film business to avoid acting bossy. He has found that telling people what to do risks triggering their resistance. That’s why he prefers asking questions rather than issuing commands.  

Grazer’s first hit was the 1984 movie Splash. In 1991, while shooting the expensive film Far and Away in Ireland, the studio pressured him to cut costs.

The film’s star was 29-year-old Tom Cruise. Grazer needed Cruise’s help to save money on the lavish production, but he didn’t feel comfortable telling his star, “We need you to make do with less.”

Instead, Grazer approached Cruise on the set and explained the situation. Then he asked, “Can you be the team leader here with the cast and crew? Can you be the guy to set the example?”

“I’m 100% that guy!” Cruise replied.

By letting Cruise rally everyone about staying within budget, Grazer completed the movie without further cost overruns. Cruise became his ally.

“Tom appreciated that I came to him with a problem, that I treated him as an equal, that I treated him as part of the solution,” Grazer says. “I allowed Tom to be curious about both the problem and how to fix it.”

Grazer, who has produced such movies as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon, knows that questions can guide people to fall into line. Enlisting Cruise’s help signaled Grazer’s respect for the star and enabled him to gain compliance without demanding it.

— Adapted from A Curious Mind, Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman, Simon & Schuster.

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