Questions that help people move forward

Tim Bacon offers this list of questions for XP coaches:

Reflecting: “So if I understand correctly then what you’re saying is…”

Prompting: “Have you considered [doing] / [thinking about]…”

Positing: “What if [this were true] / [that were to happen]…”

Suggesting: “If it were up to me then I would…”

Connecting: “Have you talked to [her]? She…”

Digging: “Is that really the problem?” / “How do you know?”

Challenging: “So what are you going to do about…” / “Is doing nothing an appropriate response to…”

Aiming: “What are you really trying to achieve?” / “How will you know when you’re done?”

Steering: “How would you get there from here?” / “Can you break that down into smaller steps?”

focusing: “If you could only do one thing…” / “What’s the first action you can take?” / “What is most important right now?”

Summarising: “So, the problem is… the alternatives are…”

Chairing: “Shall we take a vote?” / “Give [him] a chance to speak…”

Smoothing: “Why don’t we take a quick break…”

Marshalling: “I hear what you’re saying but we’ll have to come back to that later: right now we need to… “

Taking an interest: “What’s new with… That sounds interesting… How does it work?… How did you come up with…”

Encouraging: “Well done…” / “Thank you…” / “…which is a big step forward” / “…which really helps”

Obviously these stances only pay off if the coach actually listens to the response that they get.

Actually, this is a great list for anyone working with other humans.

Well chosen questions help people clarify their thinking, open options, reach decisions.

I often use a method, Focused Conversation (I learned it from the ICA, which is a very interesting organization, BTW) that helps people and groups step through a mental process.

Focused Conversation steps through 4 levels of questions:

Objective – questions that look for external facts, data, and what we’ve seen, heard, experienced.

Reflective – questions that get at associations, memories, and emotional responses.

Interpretive – questions that ask for values and significance.

Decisional – questions about decisions, actions, closure.

I use this method in all sorts of settings and facilitation — my favorite example of how it clarifies thinking is personal.

When my husband’s grandmother died, he was given the honor of delivering the eulogy. He struggled and stressed over what to say. Finally we sat down over dinner, and I asked him four questions:

When you think about your grandmother, what words, images and scenes come to mind? (Objective – external data).

What feelings come up when you remember those scenes (Reflective – associations, emotions)

What place did your grandmother have in your life? (Interpretive – significance, values)

What do you want people to know about your grandmother? (Decisional – actions, decisions, closure).

At then end of those four questions, he knew what to say at the funeral.

This process works just as well in business — though I almost never use the F (feelings!) word in technical organizations. I find other ways to ask people about emotional responses.

More on asking questions here.