Tag Archives: telling

Leadership Skill: Asking Not Telling


sensitive noise / obvious 2

Image by milos milosevic via Flickr

Leaders need to ask not tell. Ideas and collaboration are greatly hindered when a relationship switches from being a partnership to master and subordinate. In order to fully tap into your resources you must be able to phrase any requests in the form of a question rather than as an order. Marvin Marshall tells us more about asking vs. telling. 

No one likes to be TOLD what to do. Think of a time when someone told you what to do or told you that you had to do something. Notice how it conjures up a negative feeling.

I grew up with a friend who, when told what to do by a parent, would find an excuse NOT to do it. Even if it was something he wanted to do, such as going outside to play, he would find an excuse to stay indoors just because he was TOLD.

Depending upon the other person’s mental frame at the time, when we tell a person what to do—regardless of how admirable our intentions—the message is often PERCEIVED either as an attempt to control or as a criticism that what the person is doing is not good enough.

…More at Telling vs. Asking

Nobody enjoys being commanded to do things. Being told to do something often feels belittling which puts us in a defensive position. Leaders need to understand this frame of reference when they approach any topic, but especially sensitive ones, with their followers so that they can avoid putting people on the defensive. A spirit of cohesion that can be brought about when people feel a part of a team where everyone works as equals can go a long way in keeping employees happy. Special care should be taken to ensure that you are phrasing your requests as questions rather than commands to make the most of your relationships with your team. Just remember: ask not tell.