'What do you think?'

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Robert Smith
  • Air University's Sheppard NCO Academy commandant
"What do you think" is a commonly used idiom, with many meanings.  Sometimes I hear this phase when people are deciding on a best course of action to take.  For example; "I'd like to go out to eat tonight.  What do you think?"  Or "That car looks really nice.  What do you think?" 

One sometimes under-used way of "What do you think" is in the supervisor and subordinate relationship.  Over the years, I've made a concerted effort to incorporate this into as many conversations.  It's my belief when one asks this question, they are really saying many things: 

What do you think? Because you are the technical expert in this department and your input will help us make a more well-informed decision.
What do you think?  Because your relevant input will be beneficial to me.  
What do you think?  Because you are an important member of this team, and I value your opinion.
What do you think?  Because you are a well-respected member of our organization and I want to include you in the decision making process.
What do you think?  Because two brains are better than one. 

I believe the opposite, or not asking for others opinions, can destroy the climate of an organization where people may feel their opinion isn't appreciated or the experience they bring to the team aren't valued. 

Really, when a person asks someone for their perspective, they simply want to include them.  Something as simple as inclusion can be incredibly powerful.  Recently, I heard the Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark A. Welsh speak at a public engagement.  A young Airman asked a question about a new program at Basic Military Training called Capstone Week.  Of course General Welsh knew the answer to her question, but he wanted to find out the perspective of this young Airman who just went through this training experience. So, as you might expect, he asked, "What did you think about Capstone Week?"
This was a sterling example for all of us. Even the most senior general cares about the opinion of the most junior Airman. Through diversity, each of us brings our own unique value to our organizations. As leaders, I believe we must leverage the experiences, inputs and opinions of everyone on the team so we can make the most well-informed decisions. 

What do you think?