"What was it like?"
A simple, powerful question that can unlock a conversation in many contexts. Let's take a look at why it's useful and when it can be utilised within Management, Talent and Leadership Development.
Why is it useful?
Asking this question signals your intent to look deeper into a situation, to understand the person in front of you more fully. It shows your willingness to engage with them and their feelings, not just the actions and circumstances around any particular issue. It can therefore build trust and uncover the reasons behind behaviour or actions more accurately, seeking to address the cause rather than just the symptoms.
You may wonder, why not use "how did it feel?" instead? Well, there's a subtle but important difference. For some of the population (more task-focused, analytical individuals on average) hearing the word 'feel' can produce an almost quizzical or defensive response. They don't want to divulge such things at work, they're not sure of their relevance and are more concerned with the task at hand. So, for them, asking "what was it like?" essentially asks the same thing but enables them to answer in the way they feel most comfortable.
For those who are all about feelings and relationships, they still hear "how did it feel?" and answer accordingly, pleased to be asked about such things and feeling valued as a consequence.
When can we use it?
1. Coaching, conflict resolution
If you're looking to explore a situation in order to find solutions, use this question to delve into the issues fully and give the person you're talking to a sense of willingness, of safety and investment in the conversation. They're more likely to open up and engage with you as a result.
It's of course beneficial to know about the competencies a candidate may have, but don't you also want to know if those things energise them, motivate them, drive them? That's what you can see by asking this question. For instance, "What was it like when you completed that project?" gives you access to how they felt, whether it was a driving force for them or just something they're good at but aren't bothered by. That can be the difference between productive and not-so-productive when they're in role.
Try it out - such a simple question with the potential for incredible benefits.