Basic Operating Question (BOQ) for Empowerment
Years ago when I trained managers and trainers, I liked to be playful with each group. The company I was working with one day had a culture that was closest to acronym heaven than I had ever before or since experienced. So, I wrote on the flip chart in large letters: B O Q.
“Today we’re going to learn about the BOQ,” I said, pronouncing it Bock. My demeanor suggested they already knew — or should know — what the letters stood for, just the way that most acronyms are stated. Came a flurry of activity as they wrote the letters, trying to jog their collective memories of the words that B, O, and Q might possibly represent.
I did not leave them long in this state of mild confusion. They knew me well enough to know that I liked to play. They rose to the occasion and expressed their relief in laughter as I said, pointing letter by letter: Basic Operating Question.
One way of thinking of the Basic Operating Question is to consider it your “default” question. It is the question you think of first when you are facing a certain type of situation. In some situations, you might be well aware of your BOQ, but in others you may not. Questions guide you all day long, and some are more empowering than others.
For example, when the phone rings, you are likely to wonder who is calling and may formulate the question “Who’s that?” or just think, "I wonder who that is." It's customary to answer with your name or with "hello," but still you will be questioning who it is until you know.
If you have a tense relationship with your boss who motions you to his or her office, your BOQ might be “What have I done wrong now?” If your relationship is cordial, perhaps your question is "What can I do for you?"
You walk into a room with others present and your BOQ in your thoughts might be “What’s going on here?” If you have arrived late to a meeting, your default question might be "What have I missed?" Often, others will answer your questions even if you have not verbalized them because they are predominant in your thoughts.
A BOQ can be positive, negative, or neutral. It can be empowering or disempowering. It can be easy to answer or not. It can be verbalized out loud or only thought about. It can be a neat sentence or a disjointed thought. The Basic Operating Question itself as well as its quality and resonance guide the quality and resonance of the answer.
The purpose of identifying your Basic Operating Questions is to discover if they are helpful and empowering. And, if not, to craft more helpful and empowering ones. A long-time habit of asking a particular Basic Operating Question will not necessarily be instantly changed just because of discovering one that you consider better, but that is a good starting place. After identifying one or more of these, it is important to practice your new, empowering Basic Operating Questions as often as possible.
What’s your BOQ in each of the common situations you regularly face in your life? For example, when you get up in the morning, when you get to your place of work, when the phone rings, when you see coworkers, when you go to a meeting, when you get into your car, when you go to sleep at night?
Once you have identified the situations that are most important to you, note the default question, and adjust it if it needs to be more empowering. Now, practice, practice, practice.
Copyright © 2006 Marshall House