Ask an unexpected question…

I met 10 colleagues I had not met before at Siemens Southern Africa. As I travel the world in my new job as chief diversity officer, I will meet new colleagues that I would not normally come across in my day-to-day work.

Folks walk into these meetings a little apprehensive because I do not specify an agenda or topics before our meeting. There’s nothing for them to prepare. Here’s why: we are all very task oriented and we rarely have 30 minutes during our day or even our week when we simply talk to someone. Every discussion, every meeting—well, at least the good ones—have objectives, goals and expected outcomes.

I’m not suggesting we should depart from this behavior: they’re important elements of working efficiently and effectively.

But, I work better when I get to know the person sitting across from me. I ask, “What motivates you?” I leave it up to the person whether they want to focus on work or life topics. This doesn’t mean that I need to know everyone’s deep, dark secrets. I’m not a big fan of “too much information.” I do want to know what motivates someone, though. It’s fascinating to me to learn why someone does what he or she does, especially at work.

Guess what? Most folks love to be asked this. This surprised me. I did not realize it was such a radical question, until I observed the reaction it got when I asked it.  People’s faces light up and they visibly relax. Sometimes I ask it another way: what makes you happy at work? I think the positive reaction is because they know they can answer this, they can get an “A.”

I encourage you to try it sometime. Ask an unexpected question, just be prepared to answer it yourself! (As I will do in an upcoming post.)

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