So often in life, making good decisions often comes down to asking the right questions.
The universality of this truth struck me while in Boston, on a press trip which was generously hosted by asset managers Columbia Threadneedle. We observed a meeting between the asset manager’s equity analysts and a biotechnology company in which they were considering making an investment.
In such scenarios, it’s not just what’s said that counts. It’s also what isn’t said: non-verbal communications like body language, tone of voice can tell you so much.
Both journalists and trustees are tasked with asking the right questions of the experts and trying to evaluate whether they’re getting the straight answer. So for your benefit, here are some of the tips I’ve picked up along the way:
Says who? The important thing to bear in mind whenever you ask a question is the angle of the person answering it. What are they trying to achieve from this conversation? What’s in it for them? From personal ideology to professional opinion, what could be colouring the answers they give you?
Prove it! It’s very easy to be taken in by someone charming and convincing, without ever seeing evidence to substantiate their claims. Make sure you are not deceived by empty words; never settle for less than unequivocal proof.
The best question is often the stupid question. This is often trotted out, I know, but it really is true. Ask the stupid question and others in the room will thank you.
Of course, the best way to make smart decisions is to have a well-governed board. We’ve recently written about on how to maximise your board’s potential. You could also drop in to our Manchester Trustee Forum, where Peter Ayton, a professor of psychology at City University London, will outline how people make decisions in times of uncertainty.
Here’s to making great decisions this autumn.