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By Darryl Stewart

You are not being soft by asking soft questions

As I cross the country speaking to groups about employee engagement, I often get resistance to the idea of asking staff ‘soft’ questions.

Questions like:

  • How is it going?
  • What was your best day at work this month?
  • Do you feel you have everything you need to do your work properly?
  • Has anything changed over the past month?
  • How are things at home? In your life in general?

I have listened to and summarized some of the most common reasons why leaders don’t want to ask these types of questions:

  1. They fear they will be opening a Pandora’s Box of discussion that they don’t have time for, nor interest in.
  2. They think they are implying that the person is doing a great job, since they are “getting friendly” with them and they want to see improvement before they are nice.
  3. They don’t want to their waste valuable time on chit chat, nor take the staff away from their work for it.

My response to this comes from two places, the research and my personal experience.

The Research

After making sure that your staff knows what is expected of them and that they have the right tools and training, the next most important factor in their engagement at work is centered around whether they feel that someone at work cares enough to take the time to know them as a person.  This is very similar to the love/belonging stage of human growth in Maslow’s Hierarchy.  You can’t get beyond a certain level with your staff if you are not willing or able to to take the soft side with them, period.  If you won’t go there you will forever be a mediocre leader.

My Personal Experience

As I have taken the time to get to know each of my staff and let them get to know me, I have seen the rewards that result.  At IBEX we have a 1 on 1 coaching session every six weeks between each staff member and their leader/coach. Most of the talk would be considered soft. We do deal with performance issues very regularly and they are brought up at these coaching sessions, but the really important part of these sessions is the soft stuff.  The best leaders in our organization know how to balance hard talk with the soft and they never fail to do the soft at every chance they get.


IBEX Payroll extends our profound respect and immeasurable gratitude to all the ancestors and keepers of the land on whose traditional territories our work takes place. We acknowledge that we are on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional gathering place of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene people and the traditional homeland of the Métis people. This land is sacred, historical, and significant. 

Every time we acknowledge this truth, we have an invitation and an opportunity to reflect on the wrongs of the past, what we do in the present, and what we can do to continually honour the people whose lands and water we benefit from today. 

This statement only acts as a first step in honouring the land we reside on and its peoples, and must be paired with education, understanding and informed action.