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Accountability With an Edge – Three Questions That Get People’s Attention

When you’re sitting down for a regularly scheduled accountability meeting with the people on your team, it helps to have some questions and phrases ready. Most of your questions will be open-ended, giving the other person plenty of time to express their concerns and opinions. Open-ended questions also give YOU plenty of opportunities to practice active listening. (How’s your active listening? Test yourself and validate the other person by recapping what you’ve heard.)

There will be moments in every accountability conversation where things get a little cloudy. Feelings of doubt, mistrust, hesitation or confusion may be keeping the person stuck and making it difficult for the two of you to move forward in finding a solution.

Like a laser pierces through a surface, there are certain phrases that just seem to cut through excuses, habits, blame and other things that are stopping or blocking this person from being productive and successful.

With the right words, timing and approach, you can bring the person just over the edge of their comfort zone – not too far to shut them down, but far enough that they’re jarred out of their current thought pattern.

Here are three examples of these “edge” questions:

  1. “Is that the best you have?” – Janet was newly hired to run the marketing department of a consulting firm. The managing partner asked to hear her plans for the department. A week later, she arrived in his office, excited to share her report. Without even looking at it, the managing partner asked Janet, “Is that the best you have?” She fumbles and stutters and asks what he means. He repeats the question. She meekly agreed to look at it again and leaves the office. She updates the plan and a week later, the exact same conversation takes place. “Is that the best you have?” Again, she goes away and re-works her plan. The third time, when the managing partner asked the question, Janet answered confidently, “Yes! This is the best I have.” The question really got Janet to push past her edge and raise her own standards of excellence.
  2. “Tell me again, why are we here?” – I use a version of this question with my own clients: “Tell me again, why did you hire me?” When people are feeling stuck, it’s easy for them to fall into victim mode or react to things from a distance. They’re showing up but not really doing the work. This question reminds my clients that they chose to participate in this change process with me – in fact, they’re paying me for it. Think of an equivalent question that will help your people to get more engaged, maybe something like, “Tell me again, which of your goals are you most looking forward to achieving this year?” Sometimes it’s best to abandon whatever conversation topic got you stuck, and start here with what the person is really jazzed about. Then continue with, “So what’s stopping or blocking you from making progress towards that goal right now?”
  3. “When are you going to stop tolerating xxxxx?” – When a person keeps coming back, over and over, with the same issue, “That Johnny, he’s just so….” or, “I can’t believe I still haven’t…” suggest that if they really felt strongly about the problem, they’d be doing something about it. Again, this is edgy stuff – you’re pushing someone over the edge of their comfort zone and they probably won’t like it. But it’s not your job to solve this problem for them, even if they want you to.

Holding people accountable includes getting them back on track when they stray from their goals, and jolting them into action when they get stuck.