When is giving up control better than maintaining control? Answer: When you want to raise your engagement with your employees. Normally the best way to maintain control in a conversation is to answer a question with a question. “Why do you ask?” is the classic example. Redirection allows us time to formulate our responses and more times than not, avoid answering the question. Who comes to mind when you say, “I can’t get a straight answer from him/her!”?
Employee engagement is raised whenever you encourage employee development and/or when you let people know their opinion matters. A great opportunity to do both exists when your subordinate comes to you with a question. The employee wants you to answer a question because:
a) He/she believes you know the answer.
b) He/she wants to avoid doing the thinking.
c) He/she has found you are willing to take the monkey off his/her back and put it on yours.
By answering the question or taking the monkey, you give the person a short-term fix at the expense of professional development. And indirectly you let him/her know you lack confidence in his/her ability to solve the question.
Next time this happens to you, try responding with the following questions:
1) “What do YOU think is the best answer?”
2) “What steps would you use to solve this problem?” When you see areas of growth, indirectly point out the growth opportunities by asking, “Have you considered doing X or trying Y?”, or “What do you think would happen if you did Z?”
3) Ask, “Would you like to solve this issue without my involvement?”
These questions are designed to give the responsibility back to the employee. You are indirectly showing that you care about his/her professional development and you have confidence in his/her opinion.
Sprinkle a little confidence powder on the conversation by adding, “I know you have the ability to solve this and many similar problems, and I am enjoying watching you develop those abilities.” Whenever possible, find a similar question and ask him/her to take a look at it and get back to you with a recommendation. Reinforcement works and builds his/her appetite for doing more.
And that is a recipe for growing engagement on your team.