Powerful Questions

Joe Rainsberger and I just got off our #StoosSparks video hangout, where we discussed the use of Powerful Questions in the workplace. It’s such a big topic, with many subtleties to explore, so we only got started and it seemed it was time to wrap up! You can find it here: http://stoossparks.com/stoos-sparks-4-powerful-questions/ (36 minutes).

We took a great question offline from Paul Culmsee in Australia, and riffed on that for a while … but it was a lonely conversation, without Paul, who wasn’t able to join us online. It left me curious – we had to make some assumptions in answering it, and I’d have liked a little more detail. And I’d like to hear his response to our one-sided conversation… hence this blog, as a place to continue the conversation!

Paul talked about a scenario where he wants an answer from a team on something specific, say KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

I’ve come to realise that asking a question directly, like “what should our vision be?” or “what should our KPIs be?” is usually less effective than asking “what are the aspects of our challenge that we need to consider?” and letting the vision or KPIs emerge from that discussion as a synthesis. Do you guys notice this? And if so, how to you determine what to ask, when your underlying *intention* is to get a different question answered?

You can hear what we made of this brief scenario in the video at timemark 10:45. But I wonder what more Paul has to say about the scenario and about our answer: did we understand his intent? And are we on the same wavelength or does he have something different to contribute? (Paul Culmsee is the co-author of The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices, and has done his own videos about Powerful Questions!)

I’d guess that Paul is sleeping now, so while we wait for his answer, we’ll take any questions or comments you have about Powerful Questions in comments here on this post. I’m in Europe, so I’ll head to bed waaay before Joe in Canada does, but one or the other of us should be checking in here periodically, and we look forward to hearing from you! Dawna Jones (in the US), and Sander Huijsen (in the Netherlands), who organised that video may also show up here to chat with you.

By the way: there’s a resource list of “ways to learn and things to try” associated with the video, the link is listed underneath the video at http://stoossparks.com/stoos-sparks-4-powerful-questions/

 

(Note: I have temporarily disabled comments here to quell a flood of spam. Please use my contact form for now, thanks! -deb)

Comments (26)

  1. Hi

    First up, thanks for discussing my question. I watched the video, and then checked out the references, and especially liked your powerful questions cards, as well as “art of powerful questions” booklet. As you correctly point out, its very hard to answer a question like mine without sufficient context and you didn’t have that. In hindsight, I wish I had omitted the KPI example because that anchored the discussion far too much from my intent (the ‘what is our vision’ question would have been a much better example to stick with because the whole argument about intentionality of KPI’s would have not been there.

    One of the contexts that are important is of course the means by which I facilitate, and the sort of sessions I facilitate. I often map the rationale of conversations visually using software, which allows for a more detailed representation of rationale than flipcharts, with less heavy lifting during and post workshop than say… flip charts (although I do use flipcharts a lot too).

    I think as a result of my mapping method of facilitation, combined with signalling intent but then asking a different question (and I don’t just mean framed differently, but one that if you didn’t know any better would seen counter intuitive) has worked for me. The idea is in line with this article on obliquity (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/think-oblique-how-our-goals-are-best-reached-indirectly-1922948.html).

    Its a pity I couldn’t participate, but the StoosSparks was a bit late for me to attend. I hope that I am making sense in prose, and perhaps the best thing to do is check out the videos I made…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svaasbQIUEk&list=PL2bQugt400o2ibLfBMZ2EiQT34vfkQ0LI

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymyYuseFpzg&list=PL2bQugt400o04Zt5z2x_wYmPlGAflUhP9

    regards

    Paul

    1. Hi Paul!

      Nice to have more context… I see how the KPI thing sent us down a different road than you’d hoped for. Yes, vision is a tricky one… like the artist in front of the blank canvas, it is easy for people to freeze up when faced with “imagine anything you want” :-) especially if there are trust issues in the room.

      For this I find it useful to us a “futurespective” or solution focused question, myself (after some activity to build trust and perhaps get working agreements in the room). Such an exercise would be guided by me, so that people build up their dream of the future one small step at a time (smaller “blank canvases”, like: what is the energy like there? what expression is on people’s faces? what would you be doing when this has been successful? and then more concrete questions). I push until I see people grinning and their expression says “now THAT would be awesome!”.

      I like your idea about obliquity… I need to think about what I do with teams to see if I am perhaps doing that already. If not, maybe it is something to add! I will follow that link, thanks. (Certainly I do it in one-on-one coaching – shifting into metaphor, or values, or asking an intuitive off-the wall question to break them out of their stuckness and give a fresh perspective).

      I guess one misgiving I have about the intensive capture you do with a tool is this: I did Syntegration documentation once, and while I captured a lot of info, I felt unable to really feel the room and facilitate, because my attention was on the tool and not the people (whiteboard, with my back to the room!) . I was so furiously scribing, that I missed subtleties, like someone felt left out. I know your method is different from Syntegration. But I did try Dialogue Mapping once, and felt the same disconnect (admittedly, I was a novice Dialogue Mapper. And using a whiteboard again, back to the room). I use my intuition a lot, and in fact sometimes I let a lot of the detailed content in the room go past me, in order to also absorb the subtext, body language… the big picture of what is going on in the room. If I could do that and also capture the details for people in a way they could really use, I could fulfill both facilitator/coach and scribe roles, I guess.

      I only saw the video links you posted to StoosNetwork after our event… I do recommend everyone have a look! And me too :-)

      Ok, now off to work…
      G’day!
      deb

  2. Hi Paul!
    Nice to have more context… I see how the KPI thing sent us down a different road than you’d hoped for. Yes, vision is a tricky one… like the artist in front of the blank canvas, it is easy for people to freeze up when faced with “imagine anything you want” :-) especially if there are trust issues in the room.
    For this I find it useful to us a “futurespective” or solution focused question, myself (after some activity to build trust and perhaps get working agreements in the room). Such an exercise would be guided by me, so that people build up their dream of the future one small step at a time (smaller “blank canvases”, like: what is the energy like there? what expression is on people’s faces? what would you be doing when this has been successful? and then more concrete questions). I push until I see people grinning and their expression says “now THAT would be awesome!”.
    I like your idea about obliquity… I need to think about what I do with teams to see if I am perhaps doing that already. If not, maybe it is something to add! I will follow that link, thanks. (Certainly I do it in one-on-one coaching – shifting into metaphor, or values, or asking an intuitive off-the wall question to break them out of their stuckness and give a fresh perspective).
    I guess one misgiving I have about the intensive capture you do with a tool is this: I did Syntegration documentation once, and while I captured a lot of info, I felt unable to really feel the room and facilitate, because my attention was on the tool and not the people (whiteboard, with my back to the room!) . I was so furiously scribing, that I missed subtleties, like someone felt left out. I know your method is different from Syntegration. But I did try Dialogue Mapping once, and felt the same disconnect (admittedly, I was a novice Dialogue Mapper. And using a whiteboard again, back to the room). I use my intuition a lot, and in fact sometimes I let a lot of the detailed content in the room go past me, in order to also absorb the subtext, body language… the big picture of what is going on in the room. If I could do that and also capture the details for people in a way they could really use, I could fulfill both facilitator/coach and scribe roles, I guess.
    I only saw the video links you posted to StoosNetwork after our event… I do recommend everyone have a look! And me too :-)
    Ok, now off to work…
    G’day!
    deb

  3. Hiya

    Trying dialogue mapping is like trying a guitar with no training. It doesn’t work that way. It, like facilitation, is a craft based skill that takes practice. I can facilitate a session up to 12-20 people these days on my own depending on the subject matter, but any more than that I co-facilitate with others to ensure that the scenario you paint doesn’t happen. Together we have done groups as large as 50.

    I would suggest to anybody who wants to try dialogue mapping not to do so straight away. There are 3 steps to mastery of the approach.

    1. Learn the software until you know it backwards. ie Every key press, no using the UI. Compendium has to be in your muscle memory and not get in the way.

    2. Learn the IBIS notation until you know it backwards. Chances are novice mappers end up with a lot of orphaned ideas on the page if you do not have this skill down-pat. If you have to do any serious frontal lobe processing to work out whether the person is stating an idea or a pro, then you are not quite ready yet. IBIS is a language, and like any language, takes time to become fluent.

    (by the way, it usually takes me an hour to teach the software and 2 days to teach IBIS)

    3) Learn the art of facilitation. This is the hardest bit for me, but I was very lucky to work with other facilitators and learn that way. This probably took me a year or so to really find my groove. Experienced facilitators like yourself are at an advantage here. Steps 1 and 2 are in my book, much easier skills to develop.

    Finally, I would never Dialogue Map a session where I wasn’t facing the room with the projected screen behind me. Otherwise its very difficult to have a conversation with your stakeholders as well as have them interact with the map.

    regards

    Paul

  4. Deb, you pointed out that powerful questions are rooted in true curiosity and genuine respect. By “powerful” I think we mean questions that spark new perspectives (most skillful view), which yields new kinds of thoughts (more skillful understanding) which ultimately leads to different behavior (most skillful action). How does the questioner get to a place of true curiosity and genuine respect so they can deliver from there?

    J.B., you described your maturation from unsolicited-advice-giver through leading-questioner to someone developing the reputation for asking good questions. As you did it felt like you were letting something go. Was that your experience? And if so, what were you letting go?

    1. John, I suppose I did let something go in the transition from unrelenting advice-giver to co-explorer. (I don’t like the airiness of those terms, but they fit.) In particular, I let go of the need for people to judge my advice as correct. Certainly, when I started trying to make a career for myself as a consultant, I needed people to consider me an expert in some area of value to them, and building credibility in this way matched well with my predisposition to enjoy being seen as correct. I think this reflected the insecurity that I felt, as many new consultants do: we feel a certain degree like imposters in our role as highly-paid magic 8-balls. People paid me to tell them what I know… or, at least, I interpreted my role that way. Unfortunately, as many people found me off-putting as found me effective. Around this time, I started reading Weinberg’s and other authors’ opinions on how to give advice well (as opposed to how to give good advice).

      So I began asking more questions, opening myself up to the possibility that other answers might work just as well as the ones I had in mind. That didn’t make my advice less valuable, nor did it make me less valuable, because I changed from purely an Oracle to more of a partner. Rather than build and exploit exclusively my credibility as an expert, I began to build and exploit trust with my clients. Whether you agree with Patrick Lencioni or not, building trust seems to help a lot, and so I learned that I could help not just by becoming a competent adviser, but rather by becoming a trusted adviser. If nothing else, it helped me exploit my meta-knowledge (critical thinking, problem-solving, objective reasoning), rather than having to exploit only concrete knowledge in specific areas. I can act as a one-stop shop for clients, helping them in areas that they had no idea I could help them when they first met me. It lets me build longer-term, more productive, more satisfying, and more enjoyable relationships with clients.

      I had to give up my fear that people wouldn’t see me as an expert. I still battle that, but much more easily than I used to.

      1. Echoing Deb’s gratitude, here. Thank you for being transparent, J.B.. Yes, we need more people like you to share the human side of consulting: to normalize the experience!

        Part of what came up for me reading your narrative was Alan Watts’ explanation of “The Prickles and the Goos” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXi_ldNRNtM ). Integrating things like “establishing trust”, “facing insecurity” and “giving up fear” into having well-reasoned answers and a sharp mind is potent.

        Personally, over the last 20+ years, I’ve seen volumes of spot-on and expensive advice received with pomp and circumstance and then summarily discarded. I’ve come to understand that it’s not about being right, but about their learning journey and what they have the stomach to hear (and act on). This seems to line up well with your experience.

        Cheers!

  5. ;-> and here, folks, you have a wonderful example of John asking three powerful questions: a “how” and two “how”s. I notice with admiration some of the things he does in this brief comment (oh, I long to aquire the gift of brevity! :-) …

    * John listened to our talk and frames a question in response to something specific (in my case, what was said, in Joe’s case, something he observed)
    * he speaks to me (and Joe) directly, personally
    * he reveals what he understood, what he observed, and checks an assumption before moving forward
    * he creates trust by setting up each question with some context.
    * what else do you notice?

    Wow. (Note: this “wow” often happens silently when a question lands powerfully. Then there is a moment, maybe minutes, of silence the asker must patiently wait through. Why? Because new thoughts are happening!) New things are coming together for the first time! \o/

    Question: How does the questioner get to a place of true curiosity and genuine respect so they can deliver from there?

    Hmm. (You see, there it is. I need a moment to frame this new thought into words. Count to 20! Do not disturb! :-)

    Perhaps it comes down to what we believe about people? One of the 4 cornerstones of Co-Active coaching is “all people are creative, resourceful, and whole.” My commitment to using the commitment to working within the Co-Active model includes two intentions: to work from this belief, and to notice when I am not working from this belief and take action to get back in alignment with it.

    *Believing* “all people are creative, resourceful, and whole” (me, the people in the room, *and* the people outside the room!) feeds my curiousity: What do they know that I have not yet learned? Where will their answer take us that I have not imagined yet? I can ask the question with full confidence that they are capable of answering it, or finding an answer… or coming up with a better question, if this one happens to fall flat!

    *Noticing when I succumb to doubting their resourcefulness, and taking steps to realign* is an act of humility and respect, part of my commitment to serving the client(s) rather than protecting myself or being right. I feels like something I’ve heard meditation teachers say: “don’t worry, don’t chastise yourself, just bring your attention back” – in this case, to realign with my belief in the client and their resourcefulness. We call this “self management” and it is a practice, a habit one cultivates: to regularly notice and realign (not a state of mastery, to be attained, I am told).

    I notice that I said “feeds my curiosity” and this raises another question for me … (you see! A question that lands powerfully continues working long after – it’s been an hour! – stimulating further questions) … and that is: Where does curiosity come from?

    Hmm … I’m not sure, but I suspect it might be an innate human stance. Perhaps, when freed from the need to defend and protect ourselves, it us just human nature to be curious? I want to think more about this, and observe myself and others. (There’s that generative thing again! A powerful question stimulates new thoughts and actions!)

    If this is true, that curiosity is innate, perhaps it explains the power of the affirmations and working agreements we recommend in different methods: like the 4 Principles of Open Space Technology, the Prime Directive in Retrospectives http://retrospectives.com and the Core Commitments of Software for your Head http://liveingreatness.com/software-for-your-head-book/ (which my simplifying mind lumps together with “the client is c, r, w” under “no-assholes rules” ;-)

    Phew! It’s been almost two hours now (’cause, as usual, wordpress ate half my post and I had to recreate it, LOL) and all this thinking has made me huuuuungry! (“Powerful questions” and “do food” go nicely together – brain-work requires calories!)

    Thanks so much, John, for your thoughtful questions, and for keeping them simple so I had room to think. (I guess the “remain quiet and wait patiently” challenge of asking powerful questions is easier on a comment thread, LOL, I must remember that! ) I have learned so much from answering your question, which points out to me something about learning: I had all these facts, opinions and experiences inside me before, but just one question crystallised something new out of them! (This is the “resourceful client” aspect). John and I do not work together, I am not sure if we have ever met in person, and yet he has used a coaching skill to bring me growth and the joy of new thoughts with just *one question* !

    Ok, enough newness (enough meta-observation :-P )
    Breakfast!

    :-) Deb

    (darn, John is good, isn’t he? he got me to write another blog post on my own blog! hahahahaha)

    1. I don’t think I’d have made the connexion otherwise, but looking back, I believe that my ability to ask powerful questions blossomed around the same time as I began applying ideas like Weinberg’s “make the most generous interpretation possible (about situations and people)” and Norm Kerth’s Prime Directive of Retrospectives (assume that people are trying to make things better, especially when it seems like they aren’t). I believe that I took a more generally open stance to people, to situations, to ideas, and that that made me genuinely curious and genuinely care more about people. It began for me as a personality-changing trick, and it worked. I even went so far as to use E-Prime (http://bit.ly/y4vH6) as a tool for re-programming my tendency to judge people harshly. It only took a year or so of practice to notice a difference.

      Does practising asking questions help us become more open, or do we start asking questions more often once we become open? Yes, I think. Both, at least for some people, and certainly for me.

      1. “Fake it till ya make it”? :)

        Yeah, I’ve noticed that I had to kick-start stuff like this in myself to make a change.

        My Dad gave me a cool trick. When I’m dealing with someone I just don’t like, I go through an exercise where I seek out the things in that person I find respectable. It’s REALLY HARD, at first. But when I push through that potential barrier and get to the other side, it’s more than just an attitude change on my part, it changes the interaction.

        People can intuit whether we respect them or not. It comes through in all these micro-messages in the subtext we deliver. It’s subtle things like how much we listen, whether we respond to what they say or seem to just be waiting for our turn to talk.

        Recently, I had a phone call that I was dreading with a guy I didn’t like. In seeking out his respectable qualities, I began to realize that he wasn’t a “bad person” (as I had been thinking until that moment) but that it was more that he and I didn’t have a lot of shared values. When I realized that those were our differences, I was able to accept him for who he was (and is). I was free to let go of all that judging and just be present with him. The conversation when well.

        I want to check out E-Prime… sounds like a related tool…

    2. Hey Deb!

      “Wow” back attch’ya! I’m delighted by how open you are. You took this conversation to another level by whole-heartedly engaging (and digging deep!).

      Thank you for unpacking my comment/questions. I was not conscious of some of the things you pointed out that I did. I’ve been a life-long student of communication and a good deal of my “technique” has become seemingly automatic.

      As to the question on the table:

      A couldn’t agree more with your assessment… that we can cultivate a mental state of curiosity and genuine respect by holding a belief that puts the “other” on equal footing and entering into the enactment as a co-creator (rather than a persecutor+rescuer).

      It’s been _my_ experience that deep down, we’re all curious monkeys. For me, my soul blooms open (and as an aspect of that I operate from curiosity) when I’ve coaxed my ego to cover it’s proper set of responsibilities (i.e. help me navigate this world, not drive). You mentioned one powerful way to express it: “believing that all people are creative, resourceful and whole.” I dig it.

      I really enjoyed watching you think. Thanks for “going meta” and sharing, I’m getting a ton out of this.

      So, I’m getting hungry myself! It just happens to be breakfast time for me and I gotta get my day going.

      We haven’t met, Deb. But I’m really looking forward to the day. You’ve got a bright and nurturing disposition and I love being in the presence of bright nurturing people. :) I’m delighted to make your acquaintance.

      Cheers!

    1. And, like the TARDIS, sometimes takes you places you didn’t know you needed to go :)

      Fascinating discussion – thank you all for having it in public. Making the transition to spending more effort asking good questions instead of spouting information at people is something I am still working through. I too will be rereading this a few times to absorb all the goodness.

  6. I think I’ll have to read all your comments several times to grasp all that’s in it. WOW!
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. I’ve thought about this a bit more. I relate the trouble with “What should our vision be?” or “What should or KPIs be?” with the use of labels for solutions (we need a vision, we need KPIs) over questions about the underlying problems (why do I think we need a vision? why do I think we need KPIs?). This takes me back to the “What would that get you?” exercise, which I don’t think we discussed during our chat.

    Somebody says “I want X” where X sounds like a solution (“I want a vision written down on this piece of paper”; “I want a list of KPIs”). I respond, “Hm. Sounds interesting. I need to understand more about the situation to help. Suppose you had a clearly-articulated vision written on this piece of paper right now, what would that get you?” I keep asking “What would that get you”, perhaps emphasising different words, different syllables, using the contours of my voice to convey different meanings, but I stick to that one question. I keep going until I understand deeply what my interlocutor is after. (I admit, I don’t have good rules to describe when I understand deeply. I feel it, and it still feels different every time.) Over time, I have refined my technique to make it less obvious, but I remember Dale Emery running a session in which I literally had to keep asking only and exactly the words “What would that get you?” to every answer until the conversation stopped making sense. It amazed me going 10, 12, 15 plies deep sometimes.

    This points to a general problem in software development: we know that people want holes, not drills, but we’ve trained them somehow to ask us for drills, not holes, so I like to ask questions to first make sure that they want holes, and what they want those holes *for*, and questions like “What would that get you?” help a lot.

    I find questions like “what are the aspects of our challenge that we need to consider?” less helpful, but that might amount to a difference in cognitive style. This question feels too far open-ended for me, and I wouldn’t know where to start. It feels like “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” The answers feel so big and all-consuming and I want to go back to bed. I prefer to start with more concrete questions, but encourage people to go outside the confines of the discussion if the impulse strikes them. This gives us a place to start, but doesn’t restrict where we might go. I’d likely say something like this: “It feels like we’re doing busywork and not actually achieve anything of significance. (Give some examples.) In a situation like this, I think articulating a common vision would help, as it would expose fundamental differences in how we think about what we’re doing, and might even reveal instances in which we’re actively (and, I hope, unwittingly) working against each other. Some people find this work exhausting and silly, so before we try writing a vision together, does anyone else have any ideas what to try to do to attack this busywork problem?” If there’s a pause with no response, then I’d probably want to check my assumptions. “Does anyone else feel like we’re doing busywork instead of actually achieving something significant?” Maybe what they’re doing feels significant to them, and I’ve insulted them, and need to apologise. :) If there’s still no response, I might check another assumption, “Are we all OK with just doing busywork? I can understand that, but I’d like to find a way to do more, if we can.”

    One way or another, that meeting’s about to get very interesting.

    1. Yes, Joe, the “what would that get you” approach was what I observed when you workked with my teams in Germany. You moved them from being skeptical about feasibility of using TDD to intense curiosity that led to a well-thought-out experiment with TDD and some home-grown TDD-related working agreements in two teams. From the usual “that’s all very nice but you don’t understand: we’re special…” to “aha!”. :-) nice.

    2. I agree that the question Paul suggested, as written, is less powerful than it could be. I don’t know if he would actually use it in the form stated, but let’s take it as it is, because it is similar to questions many of us start out with (myself iincluded!):

      “what are the aspects of our challenge that we need to consider?”

      Elements of this that are strong:
      * a “what” question
      * a “we” question
      * asking for observations (or are they opinions?)
      * (implicitly) forward looking

      Ibalso see some elements that weake this question, if used as the key question to launch a meeting:

      * it is almost a “which” question, because it implies a list of “elements of our challenge” from which to choose. “Which” is a weaker (I.e. less open) form of question than a true “What,” in that it suggests a limited set of answers from which to choose.
      * better could be, simply: “what do we need to consider…”
      * another approach could be to workshop the problem, and catalog these elements together, before asking this question.

      * it implies a common understanding of our challenge. Too often we “speed up” the process by cutting to the second question… thereby posing a “Blind Men and the Elephant” kind of question, and potentially starting a new disagreement at a meta-level, about “what is the problem?” when you really had hoped to move toward solution. (I refer here to the story where each blind man got hold of a different part of the animal, so answers conclusions to “what is an elephant?” differed wildly. I believe the story is apocryphal, a traditional Indian tale captured by Rudyard Kipling).
      * If the group previously defined “this challenge” themselves, in open dialogue (for example, using a question like “what is keeping us from succeeding at X?”) then this question IS an appropriate follow-on question.

      * “need” implies a goal not in evidence. if people are not used to open questions, if they are used to being told what to do or fearful of being manipulated, this may discourage them from answering. Why do I say this? Many of us are used to being asked questions that hint at a “right” answer (“did you do that thing you promised at the last meetinng?” Implied: “you’d better have!”). When we detect a right/wrong feel to a question, we tend to flip into hunting for “what does the asker think is the right answer?”, effectively closing down what was intended as an open question.
      * better might be: a) clarify together “what is our goal?” in advance, or b) add it into the question: “… need to do in order to get/reach/achieve Z?”

      * forward movement is only implied. Taken at face value, this question only asks for a catalog of elements. If people do not feel safe, that might be all they offer in reply. A list of bullet points is safe enough.
      * to make it more powerful: make sure that the goal is not only understood (my last point) but that people agree it is worth working toward! This is one of those steps that shows respect and builds engagement. Without agreement, this could feel like what we call in English “the royal we,” as in “we are going to war. report for duty at 08:00”. With engagememt. the hunt for an answer is fueled by intrinsic motivation.

      Paul is an experienced facilitator, and one who cares about helping his clients achieve success, so I suspect he would do some or all of these things, or other things I have not thought of. This question may, in fact just be one in a series leading toward a truly open and powerful question. (Please chime in here,,Paul :-)

      When i prepare this sort of meeting for clients, I like to take some extra time to think about the questions I ask, to look for hidden assumptions and traps. Since I don’t think so well when I am tired after a long day of coaching teams, if there was no other time. I’d get up at 3 or 4 and work on my facilitation plan – which is actually easier than it sounds: when driven by genuine curiosity and a desire to provide real help, it is actually fun!

      Someone once asked me: what on earth are you doing at 4am? (the tone was: come on, it’s not brain surgery! :-) The fact is, sometimes all I am doing is examining my key question and feeling how it might land, then revising it. A key question is: what do I really want? (in this case, do I really want a list of elements of our situation? And then I play “So what would that get me?” with myself, LOL). Sometimes this reveals that I am actually hoping to manipulate them into doing something they don’t care about (really, how many teams care about KPIs?) – perhaps it is something that someone else cares about. In this case I might spot the need to bring these parties together for this conversation to be congruent. In other cases I may simply realise that I do not know enough to make this question neutral and open, in which case I might construct some fact-finding or agreement-finding questions, and hope that the original question is still relevant once I get the answers. Even better would be if I have advance notice and can work on the question before the day of the meeting, but it doesn’t always go down like that, does it? :-)

      So I may not only get up early and spend time writing, reviewing. revising questions, but after all that I need to go into the meeting ready to throw my prep away if the facts lead elsewhere (in the video i refer to “holding one’s agenda very lightly”).

      I recall an occasion where 4 of us spent 90 minutes framing a powerful question, to use as the theme of an Open Space event in a business. That was 6 person hours! But it was worth every second: we realised that our original question would have alienated some of the people we needed to have in the room to move forward. We had started with a polarised question that only made sense to some involved factions and implicitly put others in the wrong. In the end, the event drew a diverse group, pulling in some who had not been invited (this is good!) and some folks out of another meeting happening in parallel.

      For more on framing questions for groups, have a look. at the article The Art of Powerful Questions. There’s a link to it at the bottom of this page: http://www.deborahpreuss.com/abiggergametoday/open-space-resources/ .

      Asking Powerful Questions is about creating containers in which hidden information may safely surface, and old information can come together in new ways. and it takes some work. It is fun, and totally worth it!

      1. Oh, and I did want to say: hindsight is 20/20. I am still learning and still catch myself asking yes/no questions sometimes! Doh!

        When I catch this in time, I can say “oops,let me try that another way;” or laugh and point it out as a learning opportunity. When I don’t catch it, or it is not the right time to point it out, life goes on!

        It’s a journey of learning to spot and let go of my assumptions: about the people and the situation, about the “right” solution. and even about how to get there.

        I am a work in progress :-)

      2. Hi Deb

        Can I ask a favour (this is an experiment in tacit punch of video). Would you watch the second powerful question video related to the “aspects” question and then tell me if it changes your feedback above in an way? In this video I show the context to how I ask this question and why. It might be a more efficient manner to elaborate after watching…

        regards

        Paul

        1. Sorry I meant to say that it would be more efficient for me to elaborate after watching the video because otherwise I have to try and put it into prose which is going to be less effective

          regards

          Paul

          1. Hi Paul.

            Thanks for the pointer. I see you are framing Powerful Questions in a different way than I have so far, and it is sparking some new thoughts for me. A key helpful word that jumped out from that video for me: emergent. I have a better idea of why you mention KPIs, now.

            Being a visual learner, I was a bit hampered by fuzziness of the display on my tablet… is the video of the map clear enough to read, on a PC? (if not,bcan you send me a graphic or doc I can loom at as I re-watch the video?)

            I will try to look at it again and then reply in more depth. August in Europe is vacation season, pretty slow :-) so it may take a bit of time. It is on my to do list, tho!

            But already I have some new thoughts and am getting curious… so the video must be working! More later. :-)

            deb

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