The Gale Hill Radio Hour

"Question Thinking" with Kathy Telban

August 30, 2023 Kate Jones Season 2 Episode 61
The Gale Hill Radio Hour
"Question Thinking" with Kathy Telban
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In Kathy Telban's decades-long career working to improve outcomes at corporate and nonprofit organizations, she observed a tendency among team members not to ask questions. That intrigued her enough to do some research, which led her to Marilee Adams, PhD, a pioneer in inquiry-based coaching, leadership and organizational effectiveness.

Dr. Adams coined the phrase Question Thinking, which Kathy talks about in this episode. Kathy took a course with her and highly recommends Dr. Adams' book, "Change Your Questions, Change Your Life," now in its fourth edition. 

Asking the right questions, of others and yourself, will help you avoid assumptions and instead get to the truth of the matter at hand. "Assumptions are very invisible" Kathy says. "We think everything we think might be a fact." That is not necessarily true, which means you may not be getting a clear picture of a given situation.

Based on Kathy's work with Question Thinking and the expertise she developed over her 40-year career in business, she made the decision to run for City Council in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, where she lives. 

In this episode, hear about why she's running for public office for the first time; pick up practical strategies that could dramatically change how you ask questions and make decisions; and, finally, get a glimpse into a topic that's close to Kathy's heart: Leadership and Horses. I think that's a future podcast in the making!

This is Kate Jones. Thank you for listening to The Gale Hill Radio Hour!

The show is available in Apple and Google Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast directories. Also on Substack and YouTube; Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Hello and welcome to The Gale Hill Radio Hour. I'm your host Kate Jones, here with Kathy Telban, an outcome strategist, performance technologist and coach. Kathy also is running for elective office in her community. Welcome to the show, Kathy.

[00:00:41.610] - Kathy

Well, thank you. It's great to be here this morning, Kate.

[00:00:44.590] - Kate

Yes, I'm so happy to have you on. So you spent 40-plus years working with corporate and nonprofit organizations, 20-plus years as a small business owner focusing on improving organizational and learning outcomes. What have you learned and how have you grown over your long career?

[00:01:05.270] - Kathy

Well, over my career I learned that I needed to really understand systems to be able to problem-solve better. And so I spent my career expanding my knowledge of the various systems in organizations. So I started in information technology. That was my first career. And then I ended up going into learning about HR systems and training and development as well as organizational processes so that I could really understand better how to solve organizational problems.

[00:01:45.830] - Kate

Okay, well, when we spoke a while back, you brought up a fascinating topic regarding asking the right questions. Please talk about how you began working with the concept of Question Thinking and how you've used it in your own life.

[00:02:06.490] - Kathy

Well, I was actually noticing at a place where I was working how often people would not ask questions. In fact, they would leave the meeting and turn to me and ask me a question as if I would know the answer. And I said, well, that's a great question, but why did you not ask that? "Oh, you can't ask questions. People think that you're not a team player. They think you're challenging them." And I said, I don't think that's true. I found I was very intrigued by that and I kept watching and seeing how prevalent it was. So I started doing some research and that's when I discovered Dr. Marilee Adams actually had developed and coined the term Question Thinking and answered a question for me: Why people don't ask questions? She refers to it as Question Reluctance, which can come from historically people again, like this person had said to me, well, you're not a team player. So some people are challenged by questions and they don't see them as helpful, even though they're intended to be helpful. So I actually took a course from her, and actually she provided what's called “a choice map” that shows how you think and how you can navigate through things by asking more learner questions.

[00:03:35.910] - Kathy

So I started doing that more intentionally because I've always been someone who naturally is curious and asks questions, but in a non-threatening manner for the purpose of making sure we're thinking through things when we're making a decision instead of just jumping to an answer. And I just got more tools and practices that I could incorporate that helped me get better at it myself and help others.

[00:04:06.830] - Kate

Okay, so how else did your own leadership and decision-making styles change after learning Question Thinking?

[00:04:15.170] - Kathy

I'd say that even though I'm naturally curious and I would always ask "what criteria will I use to make this decision?" now I include "what assumptions am I making about this situation?" Because I have realized that assumptions are very invisible. We don't ask ourselves, we think everything we think might be a fact and there's a real difference between an assumption and a fact. So I now spend time thinking about well, what assumptions am I making about this situation? What really are the facts, real facts and what needs to be verifiable? Because so often I watched people make decisions based on assumptions, thinking they were facts. And that, to me, has been the biggest change for me. And also the fact that a missed question is actually a disaster waiting to happen. And you really want to take the time to actually encourage other people to ask questions because they may be seeing something that you haven't seen and you could be surprised by it.

[00:05:38.580] - Kate

Yes. So you really need to ask other people questions but first really ask yourself questions, is that right?

[00:05:48.670] - Kathy

Oh, always. Yes. In fact, we don't even realize that we are asking ourselves questions. Sometimes when you think about the best example is when you got up this morning and you were trying to decide what you're going to wear, you don't realize that you're not having a conversation out externally. You're actually having an internal conversation with yourself. And you're saying things like, Is it going to rain? Is this a professional meeting or a casual meeting? Today, I knew I wouldn't be seeing anyone. But my question to myself is What can I wear that will be comfortable?

[00:06:34.270] - Kathy

And so we don't realize that we're doing it all the time, asking ourselves questions so we can make our decisions and our decision is actually what we've got on.

[00:06:45.970] - Kate

Right. So how does someone learn to ask better questions?

[00:06:53.350] - Kathy

Well, that's really probably a multi-pronged question and maybe different for different people. I mean, if you're reluctant to ask questions, you've got to get over that and you've got to be in a safe environment. People need to feel psychologically safe and they won't be judged when they ask questions. So being able to maybe start in those areas where you do feel safe in that group and you get comfortable asking questions and asking questions together. And then being able to be in situations where it doesn't matter if you're with people that you know but people you don't know, that your intent is really making the best decisions and that you can frame a question so it's not threatening or judgmental in nature but one of where the intent is really to make good decisions and be able to deliver a question with a curious tone, not a judgmental kind of tone because that can shut down conversations right away. So some of the things that I tell people that they can do is start watching interviews. I do it all the time. When you're watching a journalist ask questions and you can sit there and just make some decisions about, was that question a good question? Did it elicit something that you weren't intending?

[00:08:22.420] - Kathy

A lot of times what you see is people ask leading questions, which means they're not being open to what the person may want to share. They're trying to lead them to someplace they'd like to take them. And you can watch that and realize that's not very effective. So being able to watch good question-asking or good questions start to make you more aware of what a good question could look like and feel like to the other person. And then the other thing really is when you've got to make decisions to sit down with yourself and ask and put on paper and make it visible, what are all the questions that are coming up for you right now around this? And getting them down on paper? That concept is called like Q-storming. You know, how you brainstorm answers. We always like to come up with answers. But more than answers, we need to make sure we're asking all the questions. So kind of brainstorming questions allow you to see something differently. And you don't have to be concerned about judging your questions. It's about getting them all out and then letting them show you what you don't know and what you need to go find out before you can come up with an adequate solution to something or just a path forward.

[00:09:53.900] - Kate

Yes, I love that. That's very, very cool. And it really seems there was one little part in her book when Dr. Adams says that Question Thinking skills are crucial in these times when we're bombarded by wide-ranging opinions and wildly varying sources of information. And she says that these skills help us navigate rough waters with resilience, adaptability, thoughtfulness and hope. Wow. Could we use that, right? Would you like to comment on that?

[00:10:32.650] - Kathy

Well, the key thing is that taking the time to ask questions first gets you to better answers. And that's what you have to really understand and believe. People always think they're rewarded by their answers or their solutions, but without good questions, you're not going to get great results because you may be blindsided or have areas that you didn't even consider that you should have. So for me, it's not only that it helps you in this bombarding. It helps you slow down and really take the time to try to define that issue you're dealing with or that decision so that you aren't blindsided by something or making an assumption that you thought was a fact. And slowing yourself down.

[00:11:29.630] - Kate

Okay, so you are running for the Mayfield Heights, Ohio, City Council. And I have really two questions with that. One, why? And the other one is how has your background prepared you for a leadership position in your city?

[00:11:49.250] - Kathy

Well, I guess the best answer about why am I running and what I tell people is I have a passion to serve others. I've been a volunteer since I've been 16 years old. So I guess in each decade of my life, I have served at different levels and different activities, some because of the issues involved that I thought were important to me, and sometimes it's because of the skills I wanted to learn as well. For me, I've lived in my community for 20 years. I didn't grow up here, but I grew up very close to where I live now. And so since I've been here for 20 years and I know I'm going to stay here, so my intent is to age in place. And I want to make sure that Mayfield Heights, the city that I'm going to run for City Council in, is really looking at both young and old and how all people at various continuums of their life can be an active member of the community. Because I really believe people matter more than things. So that's the why, as well as because of my background, I want to get more residents involved.

[00:13:18.920] - Kathy

I want the city to be proactive in getting residents involved, in getting their input on projects that will impact them in a daily way. So again, they can ask the questions they need, and the city can understand the issue that they're trying to solve or area they're trying to make better and make sure you're kind of using some collective intelligence to figure out what will not only solve the issue or improve the city, but also that it doesn't impact the people in any negative way. So that's part of my reason, too, is really having a different view on how to do some decision making in the city. And my background, obviously my business background, because of the work that I do in performance, I'm able to see different levels of now a city and the system of the city and how the city goes about making decisions and how it may operate. And the other part, I guess, of my skill set that I bring that will help me be a better City Council person is that I have served as a legislative chair for the Business and Professional Women of Ohio. I also served in the same capacity when I lived in Texas.

[00:14:51.430] - Kathy

So because of the involvement I've had in the legislative process for 30 years of my career, I understand how legislation gets written through resolutions, which is what the city does, or an ordinance. Because I've written standard operating procedures for companies, ordinances and cities are very similar in nature, so it won't take a quantum leap of skill set to be able to work with the law director to write ordinances. And then because of my role in the Business and Professional Women's club, they used Robert's Rules of Order at local, national, international. I've been involved in all levels, and so they use that in city council, so I'm proficient in Robert's Rules. I don't need a refresher to be able to understand how meetings are run, so I think I have the skill set where I can kind of be ready on day one.

[00:15:52.560] - Kate

Sounds like you do, Kathy. So is there anything else you'd like to add?

[00:15:59.810] - Kathy

Well, I guess in addition to Question Thinking and how it can help me or anyone else, I've also had the unique experience of learning from horses, which is a whole other way to learn from the longest living mammal on the earth, are horses. And so I grew up with them since I was ten years old, and they've taught me about trust, how to build trust, because to be a trusted member of the herd takes a while, but once you're trusted, nobody sits there and questions your motives. Right? And so I think horses have been another influence in my life, and being able to build trust so that people want to follow me or work with me.

[00:16:54.310] - Kate

That is so cool. And I think there's another podcast in that down the line because I really like that topic. So anyway, Kathy, thank you so much for being on the show. It has been delightful and enlightening.

[00:17:15.530] - Kathy

Thank you so much.

[00:17:17.770] - Kate

This is Kate Jones with The Gale Hill Radio hour. Until next time. Thanks for joining us. Please share this episode with anyone who wants to navigate rough waters with resilience, adaptability, thoughtfulness and hope.