One of my most valued resources is my copy of Susan Scott’s Fierce Leadership and my even more dog-eared copy of Fierce Conversations. In it she talks about common errors we make when we are about to launch into a difficult and frank conversation where the stakes are high. One of the common mistakes is opening up the conversation with the generic question, “So, how’s it going?” It is disingenuous, because you have a pretty strong opinion about how it’s going and it isn’t good. And it takes that much longer to wind your way to the main topic.
Today I want to point you to another context when this generalized question is less than useful. Let’s say you have just had a meeting with an employee or a key stakeholder. It may be a meeting where you did a lot of the talking or it may simply have been a conversation where some important issues were discussed or even decided upon. Before the conversation ends you offer some version of, “So are yo
u okay with this?”or “So are we good?” or “How are things going, in general?”
I bet your intentions are good. You want to know what the other person is thinking. But what if the meeting has gone on too long and they just want to get out of there. Maybe they don’t know you very well yet and they don’t trust that they can be honest. Maybe they don’t even know what you are asking them. So what you get is well...worthless. “Yeah sure we’ll be in touch.” Or “Terrific, thanks.”
What do you know now that you didn’t know before? Nothing. Wasted words.
What can you do instead?
Here are a few sample options and for each one—be prepared to answer the same que
stion! Or answ
er it for yourself first and then check in with the other person.
“Tell me what you are taking away from this conversation”
“What are the key points here and is there anything you think I am missing?”
“What are the next steps for us?”
“What’s the next conversation you and I need to have? What should we make sure to put on the agenda?”
These questions are specific. They will
give you concrete information about whether or not you are on the same page or heard the same things in the conversation. They will also ensure that you keep the door open for issues that may have been tabled (or that you were oblivious to) that need to be discussed in the future.
“So, are we good?” (just kidding!)