Just Shut Up

I have a big mouth. The kind that doesn’t shut up, especially when it needs to.

I thought this was a development in my adult life. Alas, no. Recently I went to my first school reunion, and the people confirmed I had this situation back then too.

Usually it’s not a problem, and if it is, it’s a problem for me. My mouth is big enough for at least my two feet.

It seemed like an advantage. Early in my career I was the answer man. I had all the answers (mostly the right ones, you’ll be surprised). As I’ve become a team lead and a manager, I’ve continued the tradition. My team came to me, and I’ve given them the answers. I’d tell them what to do and how to do it, and that looked the effective and efficient way to manage.

Then I’ve discovered that silence has its rewards. It can lead to more creative solutions, independence among the team and productivity. The benefits outweigh saying anything.

Asking the team “How do you think we can solve this?” (even if I know the “right” answer), can lead to other people offering suggestions I didn’t think of. They might bring up reasons why my solution is wrong, without me even saying it. The discussion does not only raise ideas, but since people own their suggestions, they also back them up with commitments.

And there’s more. I’m referring to the “Ask, don’t tell” idea, discussed in a recent Manager-Tool podcast. The podcast discussed asking team members to do tasks, even saying please (gasp!), rather then telling them to do the tasks.

I’ve caught myself doing that too. It’s part of the big mouth thing.

We think of self-organizing teams as a democracy, where everyone’s equal. This is not so. Even in self-organizing teams, there are more dominant people. We recognize them by them making decisions, sometimes for other people. They seem to know more than other people (note the word “seem”). They influence the team more than other team members. And just there, there’s a place for improvement.

If you’re like me (and you probably already know) the next time a question is raised, wait. Bite your tongue (it hurts, I know).

Ask questions instead of answering.

You’ll be surprised. You might discover that you’ll get more by saying less.

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