A couple of years ago, a personality discussion forum asked their readers to identify the meanest Myers-Briggs personality type. When the final votes were tabulated, Thinker-Judger (TJ) types occupied three of the top four spots (only ISTJs escaped the wrath of the forum readers).

If you’re a Thinker-Judger, you might be surprised by these results. You know your straightforward, no-nonsense approach isn’t motivated by meanness, but simply by a desire to quickly find the most effective and workable solutions for everyone.

Perception of course isn’t the same as reality. But if you’re a Thinker-Judger who works in management or owns your own business, how your employees perceive you matters a lot. If even a small percentage of those you supervise or collaborate with are feeling intimidated, inhibited, or anxious in your presence, workplace performance will suffer and you’ll have to face the consequences eventually.

The good news is that you don’t have to compromise your high standards even one iota to improve your relationships with your workers, if they do indeed need improving.

The key to creating a happier, healthier, and more cohesive workplace is to alter your communication style to include more questions. Ask them frequently throughout each day, really listen to the answers, and take those answers into account before you proceed, with work plans or with any other order of business that affects the direction and profitability of your enterprise.

The value of questions is that they’re designed to start conversations. Rather than offering your opinions straight out of the box, you can allow them to emerge organically and dialectically during enlightening dialogues. Through the strategic use of questioning, you can draw your workers out and get them involved in group discussions where everyone’s opinion will be heard, acknowledged, and respected.

But What Types of Questions?

You’ll want to ask questions that are open-ended and designed to elicit a thoughtful response. They should reveal a genuine curiosity and interest and not seem perfunctory or patronizing in either word content or tone.

Perhaps most importantly, they should be formulated in such a way that the person answering them feels free to speak their mind, without self-censorship or fear that they’ll give the wrong answer.

You won’t necessarily act on your employee’s advice or recommendations, or agree with their opinion or even completely understand their perspective. But you’ll know exactly where they stand on the issue at hand, and when you share your thoughts and opinions you won’t be doing it in a vacuum, with no real idea about how your perspective will be received.

Here’s a sampling of the type of questions that can bring useful, interesting, and informative responses, from employees who will feel like you truly value their input:

·         What types of opportunities do you think we’ve been missing?

·         What do you believe are the strengths and weaknesses of my plan?

·         How would you proceed if you were in my shoes?

·         What do you believe is the best solution in these circumstances?

·         What do you find most attractive about that option?

·         What type of problems do you think we may encounter if we move forward with this plan?

·         Where do you see this project taking us?

·         What do you believe are some of the risks associated with making a change at this time?

·         How do you think we can most effectively balance tradition with innovation?

None of these questions require a predetermined answer. They are structured to solicit sincere and diverse opinions. They all reveal humility on the part of the questioner, in this case a thinker-judger boss who hasn’t always been known to show that kind of humility in the past.

Another interesting thing about how these questions are framed is that they invite the listener to share ideas or discuss possible scenarios, not make definitive statements that may provoke strong disagreement or resistance from others (including you).

When you ask “what do you believe is the best solution …?” instead of “what is the best solution …?,” this lets the person express themselves honestly without setting them in opposition to those who might have different ideas. Questions like this help create a no-pressure environment where everyone feels free to participate and share their thoughts without fear of recrimination, including the person who asked the question in the first place (you, the one who may have been criticized in the past for being overly blunt and opinionated).

When the discussion is finished and everyone has expressed their viewpoints, you may still decide to do what you wanted to do all along. In fact, if you’re the typical thinker-judger boss, that might happen quite often.

But if that is the result, no one will resent it or feel like they were ignored, overlooked, or disrespected. You’ve chosen an approach that naturally builds camaraderie and consensus, and when you exercise your authority you’ll do so as a respected team leader.

The Influence of Body Language and Tone

When you’re asking these questions, body language matters as well. You should look your listeners in the eye as you’re speaking, to let them know you’re fully engaged in the conversation. You should face the person you’re talking to, observe proper social distancing etiquette, and keep your hands at your sides or held in front of you. Don’t put your hands on your hips or fold them across your chest, and when you speak be sure your volume level is controlled and your vocal tones don’t betray any hint of irritation or impatience.

Your whole presentation should be designed to send a clear and unambiguous message: whatever your current opinions might be, they’re open to change and you’re open to being persuaded by facts, logic, and a well-constructed argument.

And How You Respond Matters, Too

Asking questions is great. But you don’t want to nullify their positive impact by responding in a way that will shut down the discussion, or make your worker or employee feel like they’re being humored.

Here are some examples of appropriate, people-friendly responses:

·         I can see what you mean …

·         I understand what you’re saying …

·         You raise a legitimate point …

·         Interesting, I hadn’t thought of it like that before …

·         That’s a fascinating way to look at it …

·         That’s a truly fresh angle …

·         What you’ve said really makes sense …

·         Wow, I wish I’d thought of that! …

These types of responses will reinforce your efforts to constructively engage, and put your workers in a receptive mood once you’re ready to offer your opinions—no matter how blunt, matter-of-fact, or no-nonsense they might be.

What NOT to Ask

Obviously, you should avoid asking ‘yes or no’ questions, since they don’t encourage discussion. Above all, you should avoid asking questions that have a predetermined answer. 

Rhetorical questions represent a poorly disguised attempt to take control of the conversation by sneakily introducing your opinions as indisputable facts. Rhetorical questions inevitably put the other person on the defensive, leaving them convinced that you’re only pretending to seek fresh information or input.

Bad-faith rhetorical questions are easy to recognize. They’ll open with phrases like:

·         Isn’t it obvious that …

·         How can you doubt that …

·         Doesn’t everybody know that …

·         Don’t you realize that …

·         Don’t you know that …

·         How can you argue that …

·         Surely you can see that …

These types of rhetorical questions will signal your intention to control the other person’s answer. They suggest you plan to take the floor and hold it until you can browbeat or exhaust your “opponent” into submission.

If you ever catch yourself in the act of asking a rhetorical question of one of your workers, stop yourself immediately. No matter how benign your intention, the situation won’t end well if you continue.

Ask More Questions and You’ll Never Question the Results

Even if your employees don’t see you as abrupt or mean and aren’t offended by your frankness, altering your workplace dynamic by becoming more inquisitive will still make you more effective as a boss. It will add a dynamic new element to your relationship with your employees, opening robust and enlightening channels of communication that will help ensure everyone stays on the same page on a daily basis.

At first, this new approach may feel uncomfortable, like cramming your feet into a new pair of shoes that don’t quite fit. You may have to catch yourself many times, to control your instinct to respond spontaneously and with a strong opinion. You may feel like you’re forcing yourself to stay quiet against your will or even being dishonest, which from your perspective is unpardonable.

But after you’ve spent a few weeks holding your tongue and replacing flash opinions with questions, your attitude will transform. You may begin to notice how much more relaxed your employees and co-workers are, and how little tension or discomfort anyone seems to be feeling or expressing. You’ll notice a collective upward shift in everyone’s self-confidence, and you’ll be heartened by the impact of the changes you instigated.

Soon, you’ll be unable to imagine doing things any other way.

As the perpetual questioner, rather than repressing your thinking-judging instincts you’ll actually be finding a fresh and interesting way to indulge them. You’ll become more persuasive, more respected, and more admired, and you’ll be empowering others as you do it. You’ll be showing true leadership qualities, and the people who work with you and for you will notice it and appreciate it.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.