Questions Are For Curiosity. Answers Are For Influence
One of the top three dialogue rules in improvisation is “never ask questions” (or “always make statements”). This is not to suggest that questions are bad. Overall, questions are good. Improvisers avoid questions on stage because questions move the scene laterally by deferring the information needed in the improvised scene to another performer who is then responsible for answering the question you asked. By making statements, you provide information and move the scene forward. As such, it is fair to look at an improvised show as just a series of answers strung together from beginning to end.
However, in business questions are needed. In fact, some organizations use questions to build relationships and make sales. As an executive consultant I am brought into organizations because leaders want to be certain their employees “ask the right questions.” However, I recently had a conversation about answers that blew up the way I look at question-based communications. So, I sat down with answer conversation pyrotechnician Dr. Brian Glibkowski to talk answers.
Dr. Glibkowski is the pioneer of Answer Intelligence (AQ)™, and as a prominent leader in this space, you might say he wrote the book on answers. And you’d be right! It’s called “Answer Intelligence: Raise your AQ”. In this article we’ll look at the key to good answers.
Bob Kulhan: Improvisation is a communication-based art form. Communication is consistently one of the biggest problems executives face, organizationally. As a master of answers, can you give us your take on communication?
Dr. Brian Glibkowski: A simple perspective upon communication is that it consists of the ability to provide questions and answers. Questions are for curiosity. Answers are for influence.
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Kulhan: There is a boatload of research out there around the importance of asking questions. Why did you veer away from the more common focus, and how did you end up sinking your teeth into the power of answers?
Dr. Glibkowski: I started by publishing academic research on questions. While conducting this research I made a simple observation: we have the six WH-questions (why, what, when, where, who, how) and open- and closed-questions, but we do not have a parallel taxonomy of answers. I wanted to identify a list of answers that can be used to influence others.
Kulhan: Tell us about this research, and don’t hold back! Give us the good stuff – the list of answers to influence others.
Dr. Glibkowski: The original interview-based research was conducted with the top golf instructors in the world as rated by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine. They were experts with a wide range of clients: motivated and skilled (touring pros on TV) to unmotivated and unskilled (young children picking up clubs for the first time), with a wide range of backgrounds. Therefore, the results of the research could generalize to many conversations in business and life.
The main finding of my research is thatexpert communicators provide six answer types used in communication to influence others: story, metaphor, theory, concept, procedure and action. I refer to this communication framework as Answer Intelligence (AQ)™ because answers represent a foundational ability that can be learned and improved upon.
The six answers are simple, truly providing elevated answers is often subtle.
Kulhan: Help us understand this a bit better. Break down a few of the types of answers.
Dr. Glibkowski: Let’s take three of the six answers leaders can use to influence the world around them – story, concept and action. When a leader tells a storyin a meeting, she is influencing with an emotional connection. When a leader defines the concept of employee engagement—as “thinking about the job (cognitive engagement), the stamina to do the job (physical engagement) and feeling happy when the company gets positive PR and sad when the news is bad (emotional engagement)”—this definition turns a vague term into an idea that can be managed against. Finally, when a direct report is stuck on a project, a key action suggested by a leader can directly influence work productivity.
Kulhan: Brian, you are the wind beneath my wings.
That is a metaphor. People love metaphors. Businesses are forced into change right now and leaders are forced into making change happen. In leading change, leaders will face change resisters. I’m going to give you a metaphor about change resisters. Is this effective and can you break this metaphor down, structurally for me? More, when would a metaphor like this be most effective?
We have been thrown in a raft together. It has been a difficult ride. We are tired, and our final destination is unknown. The river splits ahead. One direction is smoother sailing and the other much rougher. Some on the small boat are doing the best they can to reach smooth water; some are not rowing at all; and some have dug their oars in the water, actively pushing us toward violent rapids. (A few are even stabbing the raft with sharp sticks.)
The journey forward will be full of unexpected challenges, either way. However, our choice is to work together toward smoother waters or work in splintered factions down the much more difficult path.
Change is hard, and we all have roles to play throughout the change!
Dr. Glibkowski: This is a great metaphor. You can use this metaphor to answer an implicit question in a room, “how do we handle change?” You are reminding others that change is difficult, and we are change averse. Metaphors breathe life into misunderstood, tired or taken for granted ideas.
Kulhan: Why would knowing these types of answers and how to use them be a gamechanger for leaders?
Dr. Glibkowski: AQ holds Five High practices that distinguish expert communicators. For example, Answer Twice (High AQ Practice 2) holds that important why, what, and how questions should be answered twice to appeal to the logical left-side of the brain and creative right-side of the brain. If you asked me, “Why should I hire you?” – sensing this is an important question – I could Answer Twice: “I believe leadership is holding others accountable and inspiring them” (a concept answer), or “Two strands of rope are strong separately but made stronger when they are braided together. My leadership is made stronger because in every meeting I hold people accountable and inspire them.” (metaphor answer).
Kulhan: What types of professionals would most benefit from upping their AQ?
Dr. Glibkowski: In “Answer Intelligence: Raise your AQ”, I feature answers in sales, coaching, training, healthcare and interviewing, among other conversations. Any professional that wants to have greater influence in business or life should use AQ.
Kulhan: What final advice can you give our audience?
Dr. Glibkowski: Prepare for your next important conversation by developing six answers: story, metaphor, theory, concept, procedure and action. For example, in sales can you communicate your value proposition as six answers? On your next interview, can you communicate your #1 skill as six answers? Leading change, can you communicate “the why” in six answers?
Dr. Brian Glibkowski developed a powerful framework that has the potential to land the next deal, secure a job, and help organizations embrace change. Six answers for communicating effectively and influencing others.
Six answer to rule them all.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.