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Leaders Create Dialogue for Problem Solving   

by   Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE

As a leader or manager, effective dialogue is key to helping your subordinates or team members solve problems and move forward. Dialogue, which can be translated from its Greek roots as “meaning flowing through”, is the respectful, two-way, open-ended flow of communication that balances listening and speaking for the purpose of learning.  High-performing organizations are those whose teams developed deep personal bonds among colleagues.  These relationships form the context for achieving high performance.  Other forms of communication—debate, directing, discussing—may influence or control people, but compliance is often the best result, not productivity or effectiveness. 

As a leader, use effective questions to create dialogue, and therefore to accomplish mutual goals for you and your organization.  Effective questions are open-ended; for example:

  • What do you think about this idea?
  • What do you think is important?
  • How would you solve this?
  • If you were in my shoes, what would you do?
  • What other factors should we be considering?
  • In your opinion, why is this approach going to work?
  • What do you see as the obstacles we face?

When working with your team as a group, or in one-on-one situations, open-ended questions require respondents to share their thinking and their ideas. Problem-solving questions should flow from the global to the specific: 


  • How are things going?
  • What are you goals?
  • What are you trying to accomplish?

Problem Identification:

  • What results have you achieved so far?
  • Where are you stuck?
  • What kinds of problems are you encountering?

Options & Solutions:

  • What solutions have you attempted?
  • What do you see as your options?
  • Do you want input from me?


  • What is your “go forward” plan?
  • How can you apply what you’ve learned to your job?
  • Who else would benefit from knowing this?


  • What can I do to better support you?
  • Whose support do you need?
  • Would it be helpful to talk again?

Performance management is a significant business issue for leaders in every industry.  The communication skills outlined here are from author and coach, Thomas G. Crane, in his book “The Heart of Coaching:  Using Transformational Coaching to Create a High-Performance Culture.   


Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE
15600 NE 8th Street, Suite B1-173
Bellevue, WA  98008
(206) 686-4205

Francine R. Gaillour, MD   ©2006 Ki Health, Inc.