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What Can a Good Question Do For You?
by JoAnna Brandi

"Argue for your limitations - and you get to keep them," I heard myself say out loud as I hung up the phone. A friend of mine has a cold. It's a summer cold and it's a killer, he gets it once a year. He knows just what to do. And it has nothing to do with his belief systems. It's a cold.

Just like the human body, an organization sometimes follows a program that is held together by a set of "instructions" memorized and then repeated over and over again. Usually the "instructions" were issued by someone in charge, and were relevant for the time they were issued. But as we know, any thought repeated over and over - especially when there is "evidence" that it might be true - becomes a belief.

Beliefs systems in organizations run deep and operate powerfully behind the scenes somewhere in the culture - quietly creating boundaries, limits and the perimeter of your "comfort zone." Often we can't see them, the same way a goldfish can't see the water it's swimming in. Estimates are that as many as 90% of our beliefs are resident in our subconscious minds - and are pretty inaccessible to us if we don't take the time to seek them out. Same thing with business.

In reality though, we routinely do, and should, let go of some of the beliefs that keep us anchored to the past. Every time we create a new habit (of thinking or doing or both) we are installing a new belief, one that, when planted can grow and flourish.

Let's take look at this thing I call Positive Leadership.

Some people think that when I call leadership "positive" I mean the opposite of "negative" leadership. Not at all.

Positive in this case means taking its direction from the extraordinary work that is being done in the field of Positive Psychology - the science of what makes for flourishing lives and thriving organizations. Now that the scientists are involved we have evidence. Evidence that when an organization - or a person - challenges some of the beliefs they've held as true, challenges some of the assumptions that hold together their existing models, they open up a field of possibility that is bigger and broader then they were able to imagine before.

We have evidence that when an organization can take their focus off of what's wrong and shift to that which they want to create it releases the energy to get there. When an organization is focused on building more positive capacity - the ability to experience more positive emotion -  the physical effects of that emotion on the people broaden their scope of thinking, increase their intuition and expand their capacity for creativity. That creativity can be channeled into innovation.

David Cooperrider, who helped develop 'Appreciative Inquiry" (AI) believes a systematic discovery of what gives "life" to a living system will awaken the imagination and stimulate innovation far better than searching for all the things that are wrong and trying to fix them.

He encourages us to stop looking at business as a problem to be fixed and start looking at it as a mystery to be discovered. AI involves the ability to ask questions that will strengthen the system's capacity. The focus on strengths - both individuals and organizational - is a strong foundation of the Positive Psychology movement.

Are you focusing on your strengths?

You know how I love questions. (If you've ever taken our Customer Care Coach® self study program you might agree that the hundreds of questions we incorporate in the program stimulate all kinds of new thought.) The brain runs on questions. Think about it - what did your self-talk sound like when you woke up this morning? Usually early morning thoughts sound something like this: Is it morning already? Can I sleep an extra 15 minutes? Do I have to get up? What's for breakfast? What will I wear to work?

Get my point? We ask ourselves questions all day long and we can use questions to break old habits of thinking and access old (and often unproductive) belief systems. The brain is compelled to answer questions so you might as well make yours good ones. Questions can be empowering or disempowering. Asking the question "What are the healthiest food choices for me today?" is real different than "Why am I so fat?"

"How can we create remarkable experiences that will make the customers want to come back with money and friends?" is a whole different question than "How can we keep from losing more customers? Notice the difference?

So I am going to leave you with a few questions to provoke a different kind of thinking. When you repeat the questions frequently and spread them around you will seed new thoughts and sprout some new ideas.

  • "How can I create more value?"

  • "How can we create more positive emotions around here?"

  • "When my team is operating at its best, what do we see?"

  • "How can we get more joy out of work?"

  • "What are we really good at?"

  • "What do we do better than anyone else?"

  • "What are you better at this week than you were last week?

  • "What are you really proud of?"

  • "What can we change to make things work better for the customer?"

  • "How can we use our strengths to be get the customers to love doing business with us?"

  • "What do our customers need that they don't know they need?"

Okay, I'm sure by now, you've gotten my point. Now, take those questions - or make up your own and start your team on the road to more expansive thinking. If you are going to stay a step ahead of the customers - and that's what it takes these days to stay a step ahead of the competition -  you'd best be mastering the art of the empowering question.

Argue for your limitations - and you get to keep them, open your mind to new possibilities and you'll get to see them.


The Author

JoAnna Brandi

JoAnna Brandi is the Publisher of the Customer Care Coach® leadership program. She is the author of three books: "Winning at Customer Retention, 101 Ways to Keep 'em Happy, Keep 'em Loyal, and Keep 'em Coming Back" "Building Customer Loyalty - 21 Essential Elements in ACTION" and "54 Ways to stay Positive in a Changing, Challenging and Sometimes Negative World" JoAnna is an accomplished public speaker and a contributing author to numerous business publications. Her work in customer loyalty has been cited in Fortune Magazine, Sales and Marketing Magazine, The Executive Report on Customer Retention, US Banker, the Retail Advantage, The Kiplinger Letter, The Competitive Advantage and dozens of others.

You can subscribe to her bi-weekly Customer Care Tip for free and find more of her work at and .

Many more articles in The Customer Care Coach and Customer Service in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2009 by JoAnna Brandi. All rights reserved.

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