Open Swimming…

I was in the Mid-west again last week. I was attending my final formal Talent Review session of the year. ‘Formal’…since each attendee had opportunity to talk about our people, our strategies and our talent. ‘Final formal’…since we always talk informally about our people and our talent…just not always in a two day face to face meeting. I learned so much. It was so easy to stay engaged. I offered my best ideas and opinions…I took away wonderful ideas and advice.

We experienced stunning early summer weather. Hot, dry, clear blue skies. It was wonderful. It just wasn’t wonderful in Chicago. In Chicago on Wednesday – when I was due to fly home – the weather was ‘horrendous’…my flight was cancelled. It took me an extra day to get home. I was relieved to walk through the door in the end…and delighted that the meetings I had flown to attend had been so useful

I asked lots of questions at our final formal review last week. I normally ask open questions – what do you think about our project strategy? And I avoid closed questions – will you support my proposal for increased capacity? Open questions elicit much more information, lead to much better conversations and discussions, and provide so much more opportunity for me to learn. Closed questions don’t.

I frequently hear leading questions – did you leave early enough to get to Chicago considering that such bad weather was coming? No…and I should have known…I get it.

There is a fourth style – the Can You Swim Questions. So called based on the apocryphal story origin of an individual walking alongside a river with their boss, who turns and enquires – Can You Swim? At that moment you know that whatever your answer, it is simply a precursor to the inevitable – you are about to be pushed in!

The first time anyone described the concept of a ‘Can You Swim question’ my response was to laugh….and then I thought…and then I nodded. I have definitely been asked Can You Swim questions…many times. Questions where it becomes clear – whatever my answer – that the inquisitor is only interested in setting up his or her own next statement.

Worse still…I realised then – as I do now – that I definitely ask Can You Swim questions…in fact I asked CYS questions multiple times last week…every day! In fact I even asked them yesterday when out with friends, and this morning with colleagues by email! And now I don’t know whether to be pleased or embarrassed.

The simple answer would be that overuse of any communication style or technique is never going to be a good idea (embarrassed). On the other hand, there are situations where a Can You Swim question can rapidly open someone’s mind to a different option (pleased).

And in my defence, I always ask ‘open’ Can You Swim questions – How have you got on with your swimming lessons? Which is better…although granted my open CYS question still sets up the inevitable.

On one level work (and life) would always be simpler if we were all more transparent and open in our questions. Well yes. For sure.

In truth though, isn’t the key really nothing to do with the question setter…rather it is all about how the individual being asked the question feels. For example, I was asked a blatant CYS question at the end of last week. I enthusiastically answered yes and I jumped in before being pushed…

Implicit in the original premise of a Can You Swim question is an assumption that being ‘pushed’ into something is always a terrible fate. It may not be – either in the metaphor or in reality.




About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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