Lora worked in the reception room of a hospital, the management of which invited me to conduct a training on the development of leadership skills of employees. She was considered the best nurse in the emergency department and she was confident that she had all the potential to be an excellent manager: colleagues and patients respect and value her, many see her as a model medical worker. Lora was absolutely sure that she could superbly lead the nurses in the department, certainly much better than someone from the insensitive lovers of order in the military spirit or bureaucrats with diplomas who have never carried a patient. She had already tried to move up the career ladder, but each time she was bypassed and everything ended in disappointment. Participation in the training seemed to her a good way to prove to the hospital management that she was ready for a higher position. Let it be just a corporate training, Lora decided, even if she doesn’t learn anything fundamentally new, but the certificate will be a plus in the eyes of hospital bosses. And if that doesn’t help get a promotion, then it’s better to quit and become an agent for the sale of medical equipment, she thought. When we first met, Laura genuinely didn’t understand why her colleagues saw her as the epitome of a military-style outsider, like those she herself criticized. She was referred to as someone who doesn’t listen, only considers her own interests, conflicts with everyone, often shows inappropriate sarcasm; it was said that she is emotionally unstable and stubbornly inflexible – character traits far from the image of an effective leader.
At first, I suggested Lore to learn how to ask so-called open-ended questions, starting with the words “what,” “how,” and “why.” The practice is very simple: only one correct question was required each day. However, it quickly became clear that in the busy hustle, she simply did not have time to stop and think about how to formulate the question. But it was not in this woman’s character to give up. Lore found a way out. Every day before the shift began, she wrote a reminder on her hand with a marker: “Use WHAT and HOW.” At first, the exercise seemed silly to her, but soon she realized that by practicing open-ended questions, Laura was learning more about those around her, and she liked it. Her colleagues, to her surprise, had diverse and sometimes quite curious points of view that she hadn’t even imagined before, because she never listened to anyone while expressing her own opinion. Relationships with coworkers improved significantly, she was able to find common ground even with those she had previously avoided. With every well-posed question, Laura felt more confident, and after two months she was amazed to find that she no longer needed to write a reminder on her hand. She did very well, using successful open-ended questions in every conversation and no longer thinking about when and how to pose the question. What was initially difficult, now happened easily and naturally. The skill became automatic and a habit.
The habit of asking open-ended questions not only helped Laura establish relationships at work, but it also touched all aspects of her life. Thus, a long-standing dispute with her sisters over Christmas gifts was miraculously resolved. Every December, their family brought not only snowflakes and a festive atmosphere, but also arguments. Laura, who earned more than her two sisters and had no children of her own, insisted that she would buy gifts for her nephews and nieces. Despite a generous offer from a loving sister and aunt, this still caused a painful conflict for the self-esteem of all involved parties. Traditionally, pre-Christmas gatherings ended in arguments, accusations, shouting, and crying. This winter, gift disputes were finally put to rest with just one correctly phrased question. When her sister suggested distributing the gift purchases among all the adults, instead of her usual ultimatum of “No, I’ll pay, I earn the most,” Laura finally asked, “Why do you want to do it this way?” For the first time in many years, the conversation about gifts did not degenerate into mutual accusations of selfishness, arrogance, and stinginess, but instead allowed the women to feel like a friendly family again. The sisters openly talked about their plans and expectations for the holiday, finally heard each other, and were able to reach an agreement. Laura’s question with the magic “why” fixed everything. Before leaving, one of the sisters hugged Laura and whispered, “It seems like we’ll have a completely different Christmas now!”
The habit that Laura developed greatly changed her fate. She achieved both personal and professional success. She received the promotion she had dreamed of, overcame burnout and fell in love with her work again. Her relationships with colleagues, friends and relatives improved. Laura became a leader in reality, just like she saw herself in her dreams. Today, she says that the changes have made her happier and more confident than ever before. And all of this is thanks to a five-minute exercise.