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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Sep 16, 2020

In business we live in the world of shallow statements of opinion.  Imagine there is a topic for discussion amongst the leadership team.  People will let fly with their thoughts and this becomes the basis for decision making, based on people’s statements on the matter.  Usually everyone is pretty busy, so the drill is to listen to what was said and then make the choice from amongst the various alternatives and move on.  There is a problem with this.  We are trapped in Phase One thinking if we continue in this way.  Phase One thinking is that first reaction level of contemplation on what you have just heard.  Instantly, you pour out your immediate thoughts on the issue.  The problem with this is, although it is quick and saves time, there is pretty light contemplation going on here.

The famous Greek philosopher Socrates lived from 470-399 BC and was famous for his questioning techniques.  He used this method to help others dig deeper into their thinking.  We have to take inspiration from him and develop our own questioning techniques.  If we do, we will get to a deeper realm of understanding of the issues.  This is the platform we need to make the best decisions.

I notice this issue in our training classes.  When we ask someone for their opinion on something, they will give us an immediate Phase One answer.  Because Dale Carnegie was a devotee of the Socratic method of asking questions, our teaching methods rely on us digging in a bit deeper.  We are trained to never take what someone says at the Phase One Level, but to always push further.  This applies to leadership and to sales. 

In both disciplines, the students in the classes are encouraged to go further and question more deeply.   In sales, for example, imagine we were talking to a customer.  They tell us they need the widget in green.  We train our students to ask why they want it in green, as opposed to accepting the green option at face value.  This gets us to a Phase Two much deeper answer.  That is good information, but it isn’t enough.  We need the client to go to Phase Three thinking and we do that through further questions.

If they said they wanted green, because of XYZ reason, we don’t stop there.  In Phase Three we ask, “what would be the impact on your business if your were able to get XYZ?”.  We have now elevated the discussion to the achievement of their strategic goals.  We have taken them to a much richer source of information to help them clarify what they are doing.  In sales, we have started to position ourselves as the customer’s trusted advisor.

In leadership it is the same thing.  Members of the executive team will give their opinions on an aspect of the business.   Normally we collect all of these various opinions and then we make a decision based on that discussion.  Often, we are influenced by the force of personality behind the opinion. This is only Phase One thinking though.  If we ask them to explain why they think that, we have now driven deeper down to Phase Two.  Once we hear everyone’s Phase Two level of thinking, we could make a decision at this point.  We shouldn’t stop there however, instead we should keep going.  Push them to go to Phase Three and tap into their ideas on how XYZ would strategically impact the business. 

This is a tremendously simple process.  It does take slightly longer than just tapping Phase One thinking outcomes, but the harvest is so much richer.  We have all had the experience of having had a discussion with someone, often an argument and a couple of hours later, we are having a conversation with ourselves.  We are telling ourselves genius things such as, “I should have said this” and “I should have said that” etc.  This is because in the interval, our thinking has moved way beyond the simple Phase One responses we were applying in the conversation.  We have moved to Phase Two and Phase Three thinking, but we have missed the boat.

Instead of having to wait a couple of hours to get a richer response in meetings, as the leader, we have to get our Socrates mojo working and go for Phase Two and Phase Three responses right there and then.  We have to guide our people to start thinking more strategically about the business. You will be surprised by the improved quality of thinking that you trigger.  This means the leadership group discussion and the decisions made will also be much better.  Let’s all decamp to the Phase Three world and live there from now on.