Sharpen Your Focus

The word resolution has many definitions. Finding a resolution is most commonly thought of as determining a course of action in order to accomplish and complete a task. Your definition may also relate to establishing the resolve to make a positive change (think New Year's Resolution). While these definitions are all valid, my favorite definition involves bringing things into focus with greater clarity, similar to how greater resolution of a photograph sharpens the image.

I find thinking about resolution from the perspective of gaining greater clarity is an effective way to increase productivity, strengthen relationships, improve results, and reduce stress. A reliable way to arrive at these outcomes is by asking clarifying questions. However, it is important that your clarifying questions are not viewed as "gotcha questions" designed to put anyone on the spot. Rather you want your clarifying questions to demonstrate your genuine curiosity about what is being proposed and your desire to better understand the issue.

One of the best communication strategies I have learned is to "act as if" the other person is a foreign dignitary and I need to ask questions that are aligned with her country's customs, choosing words that demonstrate respect that will not insult or offend the person. Based on conversational cues, here are four clarifying questions that I have found useful in moving the discussion forward as opposed to shutting it down.

  • If you hear generalized frustration about a lack of action; the problem may be related to getting results.
    Clarifying question: "What kind of tasks do you envision assigning to us?"
  • If you hear generalized complaining, the problem may be related to people needing to vent.
    Clarifying question: "Could you elaborate a little more on this issue and I'll just listen?"
  • If you hear generalized uncertainty; the problem may be related to people requiring more time to think.
    Clarifying question: "Could we do more brainstorming before we move on?"
  • If you hear generalized concern about a lack of details; the problem may be related to the unfamiliar approach being used.
    Clarifying question: "Can you share any examples where this has been done successfully before?"

When issues are resolved, it really means they are clarified in a way that allows you to move on to the next step. And there will always be a next step with worthwhile projects. Clarifying questions are an efficient way of sharpening the discussion and getting to the heart of the matter so you can actually move towards that next step.