THE BLOG
08/27/2013 06:17 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2013

One Question, Unlimited Value

Too many people leave conversations and meetings with the most important things unsaid. Scratching our heads, shrugging it off, or rolling our eyes, we move on. Many times each day, the true gems are buried, increasing efforts and decreasing value for everyone.

This happens as often in one-on-one discussions as in group meetings. The person across the desk or meeting table from you has varying levels of attention. Why? Fatigue, boredom, annoyance, distraction, fear, introversion, time urgency, deference, etc. So it's little wonder valuable ideas are missed.

I see this happen frequently as an executive coach, observing my clients and their colleagues in meetings. I've also noticed a simple way to address the problem.

With the right question a leader can make it easier to ensure everyone leaves important conversations having tapped the full value in the room.

Consider asking this question well before the end of a meeting or conversation:

"Is there anything we haven't discussed that you're wondering about, or think we're leaving out?" Then be silent and receptive.

Ask it, wait for it, and you will find you'll hear something useful almost 100% of the time. They will say, "Well, yes, there's one other thing, ..." and it's usually very important. You would have left without it.

This practice improves every conversation you remember to use it: business meetings, job interviews, feedback sessions, sales calls -- and it can even help on the home front. It is indeed a question that shows you care.

We can't know what the other person is wondering or feeling vague about unless we ask and shut up long enough to let it be aired.

FYI, here are some variations of the question that you might find useful:

  • "Is there anything you hoped to get out of our conversation that remains a question or concern for you?" Ask it, and wait for it.
  • "If we stopped here, would you be leaving with something important unresolved or unaddressed?" Ask it, and wait for it.
  • "Are we leaving anything unspoken here that could make this discussion more useful?" Ask it, and wait for it.

There are too many people leaving too many conversations with too little value. It's up to leaders to ask simple questions that draw out the unspoken / unsaid. It's up to all of us to then listen long enough for people to step over any reluctance or complacency into the light of shared candor.

That clarity is not only the foundation for better conversations, but also for a better world.