The Art of Listening: How Simple Questions Lead to Deep Insights | Emmaus Homes

The Art of Listening: How Simple Questions Can Lead To Deep Insights

May 21, 2024 | Blog by Stacy Spradling, Chief Human Resource Officer

Illustration of two people having a conversation in an office setting, with one sitting on a chair and the other sitting on a desk.At Emmaus, we believe communication and transparency are solid foundations for team member engagement. We are always looking for new ways to engage employees in conversations to help us see and experience the organization through their eyes. To stay in touch with our team members, we publish a weekly newsletter, conduct surveys, hold focus groups, and have open-door practices. However, these traditional communication and feedback strategies only sometimes generate meaningful dialogue or new ideas.

As Chief Human Resource Officer, I often dream of developing questions and creating space for listening, hoping to generate meaningful interactions with our team members. I want interactions that spur team members’ creativity, promote critical thinking, and allow them to release ideas into the work environment.

I want to ask them questions, give them time to reflect, and then explore their answers with them. Sounds too good to be true, right?

We are all bound by time and schedules. I often joke that my calendar is hostile toward me and others. I know how fear, lack of resources, or not knowing where to start can stifle good ideas. Start small. Ask one question to one employee once. Ask one question to 10 employees once a month. Just start.

Consider the following questions.

Question: Do you think your supervisor knows your favorite ice cream flavor? Why or why not?

While the answer to the question is either a yes or a no, the good stuff is in the why. Imagine all the probing questions you could ask to dig deeper with an employee once they answer the why. If an employee says, “Yes, because my supervisor and I are friends.” Probing about how the friendship started or how it makes work more challenging or easier may give insight into the supervisor’s leadership style. You may or may not like what you hear, but you are having a meaningful conversation.

Question. How do our policies make it hard for you to do your job well?

The answer to this question provides endless opportunities for more questions. Imagine using this information to zero in on policies that are no longer relevant, create hurdles, or were created in a vacuum. Each year, most HR departments conduct a cursory policy review. However, do we ask those being impacted by the policy about the unintended consequences and job impacts, or are we checking a box to have policies with a current review date reflected in the header?

Questions: Do you improvise on the job? What do you do? Would deviating from a specific procedure make it easier for you to do your job?

Not every team member will be compelled to answer these questions. For some, improvising never crosses their minds. However, your organization’s natural problem solvers will not only love sharing their ideas, but their ideas will likely result in positive changes that impact employees and productivity.

If this sparks your curiosity, great. I have achieved my objective to inspire creativity and encourage you to think beyond a survey. If you hate these questions, ask yourself why. Maybe they are not right for your company culture, or they don’t make sense for your industry. The questions nor their answers hold any power. The power comes when we create opportunities for conversation with the true intent to learn and grow. What questions do you dream of asking? Here are a few more to kindle your thoughts.

• How does your supervisor respond when you try something new and fail?
• If you had a sudden need to leave work for an emergency, would you feel guilty about leaving? Why or why not?
• How do you know if you are in trouble at work?
• Why does the organization you work for exist?
• Is there any role within the organization that, no matter how much the salary, you would not want? Why?

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