The Art of Listening and Asking Good Questions
October 28th, 2021. Winsted, MN
In past years, McLeod For Tomorrow’s Winsted day has been hosted at the city office, followed by a trip to Carlson’s Orchard and a tour of Tetrapak or another business. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions negatively impacted touring opportunities. Many of Winsted’s big companies are global and have strict visitor restrictions in place.
Thankfully, Millerbernd offered to step up! They offered to host us for the entire day! Our morning started off with coffee and donuts from Crazi Coffee, then the learning began!
Welcome to Winsted
First, Trevor Millerbernd welcomed our cohort to the facility. He spoke about the mission, values and growth of Millerbernd, the new plant that was built in the last year. He mentioned the current job openings they have with the labor crisis coupled with their immense growth.
Then, Adam Birkholz, city administrator for the town, took some time to explain the growth happening in Winsted. This exponential growth has resulted in a housing crisis. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the expected growth for Winsted in this decade is 17.6%– considerably higher than McLeod Counties expected growth rate (+3.3%) or the states overall growth (+6.0%). Learn more census facts about Winsted here.
Winsted’s rapid growth requires skilled leadership, creative thinking and partnership between the city’s leadership, citizens and corporate citizens. According to Birkholz, working together as a team with the important components of the City’s success and progress, helps maintain positive changes for the future of Winsted. Working together with corporate citizen’s and citizen’s alike keeps the focus on what is best for Winsted.
Tom Ollig joined us to discuss the origination of Winstock. Tom was on the planning committee for Winstock for 25 years, and was one of the festivals originators. Ollig stated there are four lessons to take away from what he has learned since starting Winstock: 1. Don’t be afraid. 2. Make a plan, 3. Have passion, and 4. learn as you go. These lessons steps outline a growth mindset. They even play right back into our leadership training for the day!
Becoming a Skilled Communicator
The U of M educator for the Winsted day was Toby Spanier. Communication is an overlooked leadership skill. We communicate daily, but how effectively are we communicating with our team? Our family? Our neighbors? The art of communication relies on understanding each underlying component, embracing a growth mindset, and effective questioning.
Communication isn’t just how we speak to others, it also encompasses the art of probing questions and listening. While it is important to communicate effectively when speaking, successful communication is not a one way conversation. Unfortunately, our culture puts a strong emphasis on ‘telling’ instead of ‘asking.’ U.S. leaders are expected to be wiser, know the answers, and not inquire of others. This mindset directly relates back to how leaders lead, as asking questions can become more difficult as the stakes increase. Read more in the book “The Humble Inquiry” by Edgar Shein & Peter Shein.
Factors of Positive Communication
Good communicators, are good listeners. Listeners control the conversation. In one of the exercises completed by the class, they divided into teams of three: A speaker, listener, and observer. Each member had a secret role in the scenario, unknown to the other members. The speaker had to tell a story of something that happened to them that was personal. The listener’s role was to essentially disregard the speaker. They would check their phone, look away, start a side conversation. The Observer watched the interaction.
In this exercise, the speaker would start speaking to the Observer, since they were listening and not distracted. This is really important to note. Have you ever had a conversation where the person you were speaking to was no longer listening? Did the conversation migrate to someone else or maybe you quit speaking all together? This is because the listener controls the conversation! This lesson has us ask ourselves: What are our listening habits? How can we improve?
Asking Good Questions
Improving communication skills can also start with the basics of how questions are asked. Have you ever asked a question that landed an answer to something different than you were asking? Often, the person is not answering wrong, rather the wrong question was asked.
Questions can pose many different roles in conversation. There are objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional questions. All hold different roles in discovering information. Developing the skill of asking productive questions can be done in a magnitude of ways, a few of which Toby outlined for us include:
- By learning different methods for using questions
- Using questions wisely and knowing how to do so
- Much like any other skill, practicing.
The End of The Day
After the leadership training portion of the day, the cohort toured Millerbernd’s new manufacturing facility, AZZ Galvanizing and the Winsted Art’s council. Millerbernd manufactures light poles for 37 states and they are growing that number! Azz galvanizes poles for Millerbernd, along with multiple other contracts. They have one of the largest zinc pots in the U.S. right here in Winsted! How cool! Ask any of our participants: AZZ knocked the tour out of the park! We can’t wait to tour here again!
The day ended with social time at Keg’s bar in Winsted. A great way to end a productive day with a great group of people!
November holds learning about Brownton and Stewart, and we sure can’t wait to dive in!