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The Power of Critical Thinking: How Asking the Right Questions Will Deliver the Best Results

When you’re starting a new communication project, asking the right questions of your customer sounds like a no-brainer. But are your questions right?

When you’re starting a new communication project, asking the right questions of your customer sounds like a no-brainer. But are your questions right? If not, your results may be a big surprise. In the final post of his series, The power of critical thinking, Oracle’s Richard Khleif shares his method of developing the right questions to deliver the best results –  to start your IC projects right. 

Communications

This final post in my critical thinking series will marry the two preceding conversations, applying the concepts directly to situations most of us have encountered at some point in our Internal Communication (IC) careers.  We’ll take a look, too, at what all this might mean on a day-to-day level.

When we left off last time, I had listed four different stages of disruptive thought that I’ve observed as hallmarks of change-catalyzing cognition.  My view is that these formed a natural progression – conscious or not – for Dylan and similar change agents, which guided their thinking and actions, shook through inert complacency, and deactivated their ignorance while activating their knowledge.

Apply a new mindset and framework

Everybody loves an acronym, so just for fun let’s call that mindset “Disruptive Applied Critical Thinking,” or affectionately, “DACT” for the moment.  It’s from this foundation that we can now tease out additional points – and another acronym – for IC practitioners.

Each element of the DACT framework can be boiled down into two fundamental aspects:  an associated action that I’ve distilled into a model I call DICE (Discover-Imagine-Create-Evaluate), and a guiding question that captures the essence of the DACT-DICE interaction.  All are simple on the surface, with a far broader ripple effect when executed properly.

From an IC perspective, they are important things to do and ask ourselves on a regular basis as we approach the next campaign, initiative, messaging platform, event, post, etc.

DACT Element

DICE Element

Related Question

Observe and contemplate the world around you; identify what you consider irrational or objectionable phenomena; and interrogate your own inherent outlooks and thought processes relative to these stimuli.

Discover

“Why?”

Take into account different perspectives and data sources – prevailing and otherwise – in order to get the big picture and sort out where you stand on the matter(s) at hand.

Imagine

“What if…?”

Subsequently, move to acknowledgement of your potential role in improving conditions, formulate strategies for achieving objectives, and executing actions that drive change – often proactively and always purposefully.

Create

“How might I…?”

Measure, assess, and adjust your approach to gauge headway and impact while you keep the momentum going.

Evaluate

“So what?”

 

Make the most of your questions

Let’s drill into the questions, starting with the importance of “Why?”  In my experience, this seemingly innocuous little syllable remains one of the most powerful interrogative statements at our disposal – fit to ask ourselves, as well as others.  It’s especially useful when we’re at the “Discover” stage of observing the world around us.  Here are a few basic examples that you may’ve contemplated at some point in your career:

  • “Why do organizations send so many mass emails vs. engaging in meaningful stakeholder discussions?”
  • “Why can’t IC get an equal seat at the table among the business area leadership team?”
  • “Why don’t experienced, intelligent, and (presumably) literate executives write their own blog articles?”

Now we’ll add the “Imagine” element, which asks “What if…?”

  • “Why do organizations send so many mass emails vs. engaging in meaningful stakeholder discussions?”
    • “What if we used different communications channels to share this information with our audiences?”
  • “Why can’t IC get an equal seat at the table among the business area leadership team?”
    • “What if we evolved how they think about our profession, its contributions, and its business value?”
  • “Why don’t experienced, intelligent, and (presumably) literate executives write their own blog articles?”
    • “What if we suggested that they do it themselves instead?”

Note the change from detached observation to a more personal framing.

 

Once the fundamental parameters are set and cognition is rolling, we can start to actively plan through the “Create” / “How might I…?” phase to usher in more individual accountability:

  • “Why do organizations send so many mass emails vs. engaging in meaningful stakeholder discussions?”
    • “What if we used different communications channels to share this information with our audiences?”
      • “How might I harness the power of our microblogging and video platforms to generate robust dialogue?”
  • “Why can’t IC get an equal seat at the table among the business area leadership team?”
    • “What if we evolved how they think about our profession, its contributions, and its business value?”
      • “How might I better understand the Key Performance Indicators so that I can more directly contribute to strategy planning discussions on a regular basis?”
  • “Why don’t experienced, intelligent, and (presumably) literate executives write their own blog articles?”
    • “What if we suggested that they do it themselves instead?”
      • “How might I help my executive to understand the power of humanized leader communications so that s/he becomes emboldened to visibly and personally connect with employees?”

As we begin to gain steam in our respective initiatives, we can assess progress, adjust direction and tactics if needed, and gauge the impact we are having through both outputs and outcomes. Call in the “Evaluate” phase, guided by the “So what?” question…

  • “Why do organizations send so many mass emails vs. engaging in meaningful stakeholder discussions?”
    • “What if we used different communications channels to share this information with our audiences?”
      • “How might I harness the power of our microblogging and video platforms to generate robust dialogue?”
        • “So what if I generate good dialogue? What changes will I see and what benefits will I have driven?”
  • “Why can’t IC get an equal seat at the table among the business area leadership team?”
    • “What if we evolved how they think about our profession, its contributions, and its business value?”
      • “How might I better understand the Key Performance Indicators so that I can more directly contribute to strategy planning discussions on a regular basis?”
        • “So what if I contribute to the strategy discussion? In what ways will the business outcomes be stronger?”
  • “Why don’t experienced, intelligent, and (presumably) literate executives write their own blog articles?”
    • “What if we suggested that they do it themselves instead?”
      • “How might I help my executive to understand the power of humanized leader communications so that s/he becomes emboldened to visibly and personally connect with employees?”
        • “So what if s/he communicates directly and personally? What differences in engagement, and associated business results, will that have?”

Define your framework

These are just a few possible examples.  Each of us encounters a range of differing opportunities to have our own “DICE-DACTic” (sorry, couldn’t resist) moments; after all, our professional challenges vary as widely as our organizations and environments do.  Defining your own framework for all this can help; the one I use just happens to take inspiration from history’s motley crew of contrarians and the thought patterns I’ve inferred.

The point is that there is power in thinking critically; in asking simple, yet important, questions; and in taking an active and accountable role in being the change we wish to create.  We all know that contemporary organizations are “results-oriented” and “outcome-focused.”  That’s both necessary and good, but we can’t lose sight of the success factors that can help us be consistently better, starting with continuous improvements in how we think and make decisions.

In the epic, and admittedly well-worn, words of Mr. Dylan, “The times, they are a’changin‘,” so let’s be ahead of the proverbial curve.

Richard Khleif is Sr. Director, Communications, Engagement, and Development for Oracle and Adjunct Professor, Organizational & Professional Communication at the University of Denver. 

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