Phrase suggestions as open questions

When I make suggestions, I have the tendency to phrase them as statements, e.g. “Maybe we should consider X” or “We could do X.”

This has in the past occasionally lead to a negative reactions, as the way I phrase my suggestions comes across as if I already had made up my mind. In one particular instance, a coworker got upset at me for apparently having made a decision without thinking things through or consulting with others.

When tackling a problem, I believe that it is valuable to come up with ideas that aren’t yet thought through, or even are outlandish — “throw it against the wall and see what sticks”. This approach can fuel a healthy conversation and eventually lead to a better solution for the problem being tackled. If an idea/suggestion turns out to be a bad fit, I believe at least our collective knowledge about the problem space has increased, as well as the knowledge about what we value in a good solution.

The friction here is not generating those ideas, but rather how I communicate about them.

To avoid coming across as if I had already made up my mind, it is not enough to phrase suggestions as questions, as questions can be leading (e.g. “How about we do X?”), which shuts down conversation rather than open it up.

A better approach, which I am attempting to use from now on, is to phrase suggestions as open questions (e.g. “What are your thoughts on X?”) which explicitly ask for input from others.

Note last edited November 2023.
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