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  • Writer's pictureDr. Neal Nybo

Micro-Action 8: Get Curious

Welcome to another excerpt from my workbook, Workplace Positivity.

Asking questions is a brilliant way to avoid miscommunication. When we ask

questions, we get information we hadn’t previously had. Shocking, I know. And it

works both ways.

When I get an email that sounds short and snippy, I have three options. I can

respond with my own short, snippy message. I can walk out into the hall and

complain to the nearest warm body. Or I can pick up the phone and say, “Hey! I got

your message. It didn’t sound like you. Everything okay?”

The first two options will continue the spread of toxicity in the workplace. No

good will come, other than we may feel validated for a few minutes.

When we choose option three, we give the crabby email-sender the chance to

clarify. They might say, “I should have taken more time with that message, but I was

anxious to get to my next meeting. I’m sorry.” Crisis averted. You know that tone of

the email had nothing to do with you.

Now, depending on who that message comes from, it may not be appropriate

to ask questions. If your boss sends you a sternly worded email, you probably don’t

want to call him or her and say, “Is everything okay at home? You seem extra preoccupied today.” This is when instead of asking questions, we change the narrative.


Nicole’s example points out the truth that it is almost always more helpful to ask a

question than to make a statement. Early on in my management career, I had a leader who made mistakes. He seemed particularly good at making mistakes. I asked a mentor how I could engage the leader without sounding negative. My mentor said, “Ask a question, don’t make a statement.”

It turns out that as questions go, “Let me see if I understand” is one of the most effective

questions we can ask to improve relationships and decrease conflict. It is especially effective when we combine it with the practice of then repeating back what we heard them say. As soon as a conversation starts to get heated or someone is frustrated or simply passionate,

load that question into your response quo. As soon as they take a breath, ask your question,

“Let me see if I understand” and in summary form, repeat back what you heard them

say. First, it will help you listen more carefully, and second, it will show them respect and

demonstrate you heard them. You will be amazed at how effective this practice can be

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