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Chasing Stray Cats and Other Ways to Talk Like a Leader

An email I just received has a fascinating line in it. “Let me know what questions you might ask of someone in my situation….” He made me realize that I don’t plan my questions.

3 principles for powerful conversations:

#1. Chase stray cats:

Staying on-topic blocks insight and ends creativity.

Chase a stray cat for awhile. When someone seems to go off topic, let them go. If it seems to stray too far, say, “I”m curious as to why you brought this topic up. Could you help me understand how it connects to the reason we’re here?

Powerful insights emerge when you ask about stray cats.

#2. Care about people, even as you focus on projects.

People get projects done. Care about them.

  1. Elevate their interests over yours. Worry more about their needs and less about yours. What’s useful for them?
  2. Forget about yourself. Self-consciousness blocks connection.
  3. Accept, don’t judge.
  4. Listen, don’t fix. The best way to let people know you care is to listen.
    1. Sit back and relax.
    2. Attend to answers.
    3. Give feedback.
    4. Ask second questions.

#3. Trust forward-facing curiosity.

The biggest challenge to forward movement is circling the past.

  1. Run toward the future, not the past. The past is a point of reference, not a black hole to circle.
  2. Listen to understand, not solve. Easy solutions don’t answer big challenges. If there was an easy answer, they wouldn’t be talking with you.
  3. Pay attention to confusion. Never pretend something’s clear when you’re confused.
  4. Clarify ambiguity. It’s practically useless when someone says, “Things are going well.”
  5. Explore your assumptions. You’ll be surprised at what you don’t know, when you explore what you think you know.

Which of these ideas do you find most useful?

What principles for powerful conversations might you add?

Bonus: Here are the questions I sent:

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