Quality conversations: What is your ASK-TELL ratio?

We bring a contemporary view on how to lead for change within your organisation. Focusing on relationship dynamics, conversations, group patterns and ingrained mindsets and beliefs.

I first came across the ask-tell ratio in sales training over 20 years ago, a key part of the sales call curriculum. In that context, we learnt that your ‘Questions-asked’ to ‘Pitches-told’ ratio was at worst 1:1. This was focused on uncovering the needs of the customer with a series of brilliant questions (asked) and only when you had a rich picture of the customer need, you led with your Pitch (and tell. In theory, the customer is so blown away that they commit to a sale there and then!

It is a concept that has found its way back into my mind over the last weeks, but in an entirely different context. In the last few months it seems that the majority of our coaching conversations have been about helping leaders to take the rush out of their situation, their teams, their conversations and themselves.

The environment that most of us find ourselves in (especially with home-working) has been one of increasing pressure. We have gained time with less travel, yet we are somehow nailed to screens, video-conferences, in back-to-back meetings and working late into the night – with little regard for work/home boundaries.

In this context it is not a surprise that we see the pattern of communication shift. But it is happening without us realising it. We are increasing pace and shifting more to ‘pitch and tell’, in the effort to shorten our conversations and release each other from meetings. But the impact is the OPPOSITE. The quality of the conversation shrinks when you try to speed it up, unconsciously.

We see frustration, misunderstandings and withdrawal increasing. Without the ability to reconnect, reset and rest, some teams are moving away from being solid, linked systems and more into individuals, all ‘telling’ their individual points of view to each other. People are telling and telling, in an effort to make a point, share an idea…be heard.

This ask/tell ratio is such a simple tool to help interrupt your pattern of telling. Our leadership question today is to notice your ‘ask/tell’ ratio and see where you are in your team. How much are you holding the space of curiosity and helping to expand understanding? Are you contributing to the pace of jumping to solutions before the context is fully set?

There is much research and knowledge that supports the power of questions to unlock the knowledge, creativity and potential in people. Very often as a leader, it is more impactful to ask people to expand on an idea, to share their experiences and to facilitate the building on each others’ contributions rather than getting into a tell-tell battle.

We believe that many teams need to look at re-balancing their ask-tell ratio as the virtual environment has forced us into a tell-tell pattern. We have no doubt awareness of this will refocus you and your teams on the things that matter to you all, increase the quality of your conversations unlock the full potential you know your teams are capable of.