Never ask how a person is doing. Ask what they are doing.

Never ask how a person is doing. Ask what they are doing.




“I have a cold.”

These answers are not helpful if you, as a leader, are trying to gauge how things are going on your team or in your organization. When someone says, “fine,” they are saying, “thanks for being polite, but you don’t want to know.”

I was a new sergeant in the army.

My section wasn’t performing very well. When I asked how things were going, all I got out of the soldiers was “good,” “fine,” and “OK.”

Then they would trundle off and put half effort into their work.

I wouldn’t say I liked it. My team was not performing … No, it was worse. I wasn’t performing as a leader.

My boss gave me two pieces of advice that day:

1) Never ask, “How are you doing?” Ask, “what are you doing and why are you doing it?”

2) Then: Listen, pause and ask questions.

Read more about giving feedback

When you ask a question, you buy time to absorb what was said to you. He told me, “you can think twice as fast as the other person can talk. So your response should be twice as good.”

Armed with this information, I rephrased the questions I asked my troops.

I soon found out they didn’t know why they were doing what I was asking of them.

Without knowing the “why,” they were unmotivated, uninspired, and demoralized.

Honestly, I didn’t know the “why” of the work. I started asking my bosses better questions and shared the answers. Once they learned they could trust the reason behind what I asked, they were more engaged and often provided better solutions to get it done.

Things I learned:

Always take the time to explain the rationale behind the instructions you are giving. That way, when the time comes that you can’t explain, your people will provide you with the benefit of the doubt and know they can trust you.

Asking simple questions, like “Why?” and giving people time to answer is an unbelievably effective tool.

Without knowing the truth – and the logic – behind a decision, people will make something up.