Phrase suggestions as open questions

Last edited January 2021

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 lead to a negative reaction from others, 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 make suggestions that aren’t yet thought through or even are outlandish, as it can fuel a conversation and eventually lead to a better solution for the problem being tackled. If a suggestion I make 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.

To avoid making suggestions that come 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.