What's In A Question?

What’s In A Question?
The Art and Science of Inquiry in
Tracey Cairnie and John Settle
Reasons to Ask Questions
• Gather Information
• Learn, teach & reflect
• Challenge assumptions
• Negotiate & resolve
• Take charge & focus
• Build & maintain
• Think clearly, critically &
• Solve problems & make
• Set & accomplish goals
• Create & Innovate – open
• Catalyze productive &
new possibilities
accountable conversation &
The Basics & Beyond
“The solution [our] clients seek lies behind the
door which could remain forever closed
unless opened by the right question…”
--The Art of the Question, Marilee C. Goldberg, Ph.D.
Socratic Questioning &
Dialogue: Purposes
 Fostering awakening and curiosity
 Helping to deconstruct assumptions
 Fostering discovery and creativity
-- A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths, Annette Simmons
Beware !
“By asking what seemed to be innocent questions,
Franklin would draw people into making concessions
that would gradually prove whatever point he was
trying to assert. ‘I found this method the safest for
myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I
used it; therefore I took a delight in it’ . . . . [Franklin
used his Socratic method] to tailor for himself a persona
that was less contentious and confrontational, which
made him seem endearing and charming . . . or, to a
small but vocal cadre of enemies, manipulative and
-- Benjamin Franklin – An American Life, Walter Isaacson, pg. 27
8 Guiding Principles
1. Customize for context
2. Create inviting questions (relevant, challenging, honest)
3. Clarify assumptions
4. Ask with sensitivity
5. Pay attention to risk & anxiety
6. Maintain participant/observer stance
7. Consider “why” questions carefully
8. If in doubt, check it out
-- Making Questions Work, Boulle et al.
Types of Open-ended Questions
 Explorative questions – opens new avenues/insights
(Have you explored or thought of….?)
 Affective questions – invites clients to share feelings
about an issue (How do you feel about leaving your job?)
 Reflective questions – encourages more
exploration/elaboration (You said …., what do you think
 Probing questions - invite clients to go more deeply into a
particular issue (describe…, explain… clarify…, elaborate,
expand on…)
Types of Open-ended Questions
 Fresh questions – challenges basic assumptions
(What do you always… Has this ever been tried? How
can this be different?)
 Questions that create connections – establish system
perspective (What are the consequences of these
 Analytical questions – examine cause & effects not
just symptoms (Why has this happened?)
 Clarifying questions – help free us from ambiguity
(What specifically do you mean?)
Questioning in Narrative
 To help deconstruct peoples’ story-telling
assumptions and styles, and their personal
experiences and cultural contexts
 To help recognize the multiple story lines that
people often are part of
 To help externalize the conversation to the situation
rather than the people themselves
 To access alternative, positive “stories of hope”
-- Practicing Narrative Mediation, Winslade/Monk
Prompting Narratives
 "What might we call this thing that we are dealing with -- a
disagreement? a roadblock? or something else -- what
would you call it?"
 "You've mentioned the workplace here as like a
'family.' Does the word 'family' suggest some values about
how you view your work that are important to you? Tell me
about that . . . ."
 "You described what brought us here as 'unfair." Can you
tell me a little more about what 'fairness' and 'unfairness'
look like to you -- for example, can you describe a situation
you've been in before that shows what you mean by 'fair?' "
Questions Related to “Choice
Theory” (William Glasser)
“What do you want? What have you done
(or what are you doing) to get it? Is that
working? If not, what might you do
-- Making Money Talk, J. Anderson Little
Mediator as Actor
“The mediator, like an actor, is totally involved
with the dramatic environment –
intellectually, physically, and emotionally or
intuitively. The mediator needs a great
comedian’s sense of timing, and stage
presence to congeal dramatic moments that
shift the focus of the parties ….”
--Managing the Natural Energy of Conflict, Robert Benjamin
Notice how others respond
to your question
for example: look of surprise, fear, body tensing,
angry retort, silence…
“The words that we choose to
use are metaphors for concepts
that define our attitudes,
behavior, structure & concepts“
-- Leading with Questions, Michael Marquardt
Opening Questions
What are the Embedded Assumptions
 How can I help you?
 What is the problem?
 What brings you here?
 What are your concerns today?
 What do you want to achieve in mediation?
 How do you think we should go about resolving the
Opening Questions
Identify Embedded Assumptions
 What is your hope for what might come of our
session today?
 What decisions need to be made today?
 What are the history & facts in this situation as you
see them?
 Tell me what happened & what effect it had on you?
-- Mediation Skills & Technique , Laurence Boulle, et al, pg. 77
--The Art of the Question, Marilee Goldberg, pg. 46
What’s wrong?
Who’s to blame?
How can I prove I’m
How can I be in
Why bother?
What works?
What am I
responsible for?
What are the facts?
What are my
What’s possible?
-- Change Your Question, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams
Switching Questions
Where would you rather be?
How can you get there?
What are the facts?
How else can you think about this?
What assumptions are you making?
Is this what you want to feel?
-- Change Your Question, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams
Contact Information
Tracey Cairnie
John Settle