The role of a leader or managing partner is often to ask enough questions that people finally begin to listen to themselves and find their own solutions. While it’s not technically a question, the phrase “say more about that” is just as evocative. It’s an invitation that’s almost impossible to decline, and often leads to a deeper and more meaningful discussion.
Say more about that… Say more about those plans and next steps… Say more about how that might work…
When you ask people to tell you more, it’s not a command; it’s a request to continue talking, thinking and sharing.
For example: you meet with a staff member one Tuesday, and agree that he will complete the XYZ project by the following Tuesday. But when the next Tuesday rolls around, he admits that he didn’t even get started. You might be inclined to say something along these lines: “What the heck do you mean you didn’t even get started?!”
Try this instead: “Say more about that.” Then pause. Let him explain what got in his way. Listen not for excuses, but for barriers that you might be able to help him remove. At that point, you’re not criticizing or blaming. You’re helping him identify why things didn’t go according to plan, and together, the two of you can work to correct it.
Here’s an example of how I used “Say more about that” to defuse a group situation when I was facilitating a management meeting:
It was the end of our day together and I was gathering feedback from people in the meeting – a group of regional managers who my client was trying to bring on board with an accountability system.
“If you’re willing,” I said, “please share with the group one thing that you will take away from this session today.”
We started going around the room. The first woman said that she was excited about using the Upfront Agreement with her own team. The next person said that he appreciated my open-ended questions, and planned to use those when meeting with his people about accountability. Then the third person spoke. Angrily and defiantly, he said, “This is a crock of s**t!”
There was a stunned silence, interspersed with a few gasps and giggles. The man looked at me as if itching for a fight. What would I do now? Would I cut him down? Put him in his place? Publicly chastise him? I could feel everyone holding their breath.
But of course I was there to teach – and model – accountability. So I said, very calmly, “Say more about that.”
I wasn’t intimidated. I wasn’t backing down. I was just listening and exploring.
People broke the tension with their laughter and sat back in their chairs. Because I was able to convey respect and curiosity, without putting him down at all, he started talking. It turns out that he was confused about a few of the concepts. Because of this, he felt defensive. As I gradually clarified the parts that had confused him, he became more open, and dropped his critical stance.
This is what can happen when a leader summons his or her own patience and curiosity, and reacts from that position, rather than reacting with anger. When you can simply explore what’s being said, potentially explosive situations get defused, and the whole conversation turns in a new direction. And it all begins with “Say more about that….”