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How can I learn best from my team without them feeling like I’m judging them as their supervisor? Curiosity is the key.

I didn’t seek out to be a “Supervisor”, but somehow here I am. I’m realizing that there’s nothing I can say or do that allows the words I say to my team be anything less than “supervisory.”

Whether you’re an employee or a supervisor, you know where I’m coming from; but let’s be explicit for a minute.

When I ping an employee in Slack with a question like “Why did you do it this way?” it doesn’t sound like curiosity to them. It sounds like criticism. No matter how well-meaning I am or how I follow-up that question, it sounds like judgement because I’m a supervisor.

Which is why the questions I ask deserve a lot of scrutiny. Because curiosity is important. If I don’t bring curiosity into our team meetings, I don’t get to learn from the expertise of my team.

Leading with Curiosity

So I’m working on using new vocabulary when I want to learn from my employees. Here’s a few examples:

  • Can you share with me your insight into how you approached {X}?
  • I appreciate how you communicated with our team about {X}. Can you tell me a bit about how that’s helping you do {X} better?
  • I thought {X} went well. How did you feel about it?
    • Follow-up with: “Is there room for improvement still?

These types of questions are straight-forward because they focus on the positive efforts.

Curiosity and Criticism

I don’t find a lot of value in blurting out my judgement to my employees. They are smart, talented, capable folks whose reports on the screen monitoring software come out with flying colours every single time! So if something didn’t go as planned or as well as it could, they know that already.

Broaching subjects that need improvement is a whole ‘nuther animal. Here’s some ways I’m working on that:

  • You seem to be less than pleased with how {X} went. Tell me about that.
  • I’d like to discuss how {X} went for you. Can you prepare a post-mortem on it that includes its successes and what we can learn from it for next time?

Be Part of the Solution

I want to be part of my employees growth and empowerment, not their downfall!

I find far more value in employees articulating their own criticisms about a project. Once they have given the critique, we can plan together on how we can avoid the problems in the future. Supervisors should be part of the solution to employee pains, not the source of them.

When supervising a team, lead with curiosity not judgement. It's the best way to see your employees thrive and for you to learn from them. Click To Tweet

Good Reading

Here’s a couple resources I really enjoyed while reflecting on the subject of how I come across to my team.

  1. Harvard Business Review:
    How to Disarm Combative Conversations
    This is a great piece that walks you through a simple combative conversation and then shows why it went badly, and how it could have gone much better. It’s all about the shared outcomes in this case.
  2. Sharon Ellison:
    How Can Simple Curious Questions Have Such Disarming Power?
    This is a video about how curiosity is so disarming. That’s in essence the heart of what I’m working on currently. How can I convey my curiosity to my team without sounding critical?

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