I was getting coffee the other day and I went to ask the barista “How is the Sumatra blend?” I caught myself and quickly changed the question: “What do you think of the Sumatra blend?” Upon asking this, I learned all about the flavors, light vs. dark, toasty vs. roasty, rich. “Oh" he said , "then we also have this one over here, it’s bolder with notes of...”

These two different questions come across in two different ways and will therefore elicit two different kinds of responses. 

But the difference between them really comes down to one word. What’s the magic word?


“What do you think?”

Why? Because in that moment, I created a connection with the barista. What would have otherwise been a mundane transaction became a more connected experience, and we were both better for it. He had the opportunity to share with me all of his knowledge, and I got a whole new perspective on my options. The world of coffee looks different from his vantage point, and I could see him light up at the opportunity to tell me all about it.

While organizations are wired for communication, management expert Ken Blanchard argues that they are actually dysfunctionally connected. I particularly love how he articulates the challenges and huge need for connection in the workplace. Here's my favorite part: 

Let’s look at how leaders can connect with their people more.

Imagine asking your team member: “How did the presentation go?”

Let’s be clear, the presentation itself did not “go,” walk itself up to the podium, and deliver itself. In a way, by making it about the presentation, you’ve discredited the hard work they put into preparing and delivering the presentation. The answer you get from that question will be very different than a response to “How do you feel about the presentation?” This question turns the spotlight on the employee who will then be more in touch with his experience and therefore more inclined to provide a richer response.

Here’s a favorite end-of-meeting one: “What needs to happen next?”

Things don’t just happen - people make them happen. A better way to say it would be, “What can you get done by tomorrow?” This will not only create more of a personal connection between you, the employee and the work, but it will also intrinsically create a stronger sense of accountability without having to be autocratic about it.   

There are more empowering ways to engage your team, and there are simple words that can unlock possibility and potential. “You” is undoubtedly one of them, but it’s more than just a word - it’s a mentality. It requires focusing on the person not the “problem” or topic, and therefore how you can engage and connect with them. If you pay attention, you'll start to notice when you use and don't use "you". With a small tweak to your language, you’ll see the difference, and so will they.

‘You’ is more than just a word, it’s a mentality.

Where can you reframe your questions to be more you-oriented? What do you notice when you do?

Creating connection in the workplace matters, and will always come back to your conversations. That is why I created Empower Your Conversations (EYC), a training program to enable better manager-employee conversations and create stronger connections between people and their leader. EYC teaches managers key coaching skills, the coaching leadership style and small but powerful changes you can make to have more connected and development-oriented conversations.