The Art and Architecture of Asking Questions David L. Broussard “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depends on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Albert Einstein Rationale for Studying the Art and Architecture of Asking Questions It is clear to me that executive leadership coaching, Appreciative Inquiry, andWorld Café interventions are viable tools for use in the development on my coaching andorganizational development/change practice. Given the identification of theseinterventions as viable capabilities to possess, it is imperative that I improve my skill toask positive, probing and powerful questions as questioning is at the very heart of allthree. In fact, without the ability to ask positive, probing and powerful questions coachesand OD practitioners would be less likely to be successful when engaged by clients andorganizations for the purpose of facilitating change. The Change Process Terry R. Bacon and Karen I. Spear in “Adaptive Coaching: The Art and Practiceof a Client-Centered Approach to Performance Improvement,” offer a discussion of thehuman change process that assists in developing a fuller understanding of the power ofquestions. Change is difficult for individuals and organizations to attain and it isimportant to note that coaches and OD practitioners can not make them change; but, theycan offer guidance and assistance. Bacon and Spear note that human change is a process and not an event, thuspresent six key components of a change inducing sequence. These key components are:1) awareness, 2) urgency, 3) decision, 4) problem solving, 5) commitment, and 6)reinforcement. The change process begins with the awareness of the need for change. Just beingaware of the need to change is not enough to actually change unless coupled with anurgency to change. This urgency must be perceived to be strong enough to result in thedecision that things need to be done differently. Once the decision to do thingsdifferently has been made then problem solving must be conducted identifying
[Type [Type text] text][Type text] [Type text] 2 specifically what needs to be done differently, what barriers may be encountered, and how these barriers will be overcome. Now that what to do has been identified, commitment to act must occur. Down the road the new behaviors must be reinforced or relapse to the old situation may result. Clearly, the change agent plays a significant role in assisting the individual or organization through this change process and at each step along the way questions serve as a powerful part of the change process. Interventions where Questions Play a Significant Role Executive Leadership Coaching The coaching process happens in conversation. The ability to ask questions is particularly important to every aspect of the coaching process: establishing a coaching relationship and contract, setting goals, creating action plans, engaging motivation, reflecting on learning and thinking, and structuring accountability. Appreciative Inquiry The basic precept of Appreciative Inquiry is that inquiry is intervention and that the moment a question is asked change begins. Additionally, reality as we know it is socially created through language and conversations. Equally important is the idea that positive questions lead to positive change. Appreciative Inquiry is a process and not an event. There are four steps in an Appreciative Inquiry. These four steps are: 1. Discovery – Discovering individual and organizational strengths and what works by exploring highlights in the past. Mobilizing a whole system inquiry into the affirmative topic. 2. Dream – Dreaming of how the future might be. Creating a clear results- oriented vision in relation to discovering potential and in relation to questions of higher purpose. 3. Design – Locating and describing the elements that will bring about the realization of the dream and designing a process to get there; an action plan based on personal commitments. 4. Destiny – Fulfilling and sustaining the dream by implementing the action plan.
The Appreciative Inquiry intervention by definition is based on asking questionsas the OD consultant assists an organization identify the affirmative topic and proceedthrough the discovery, dream, design, and destiny intervention process.World Café The World Café intervention is based on Café conversations that are aboutdiscovering and exploring powerful questions as they are about finding effectivesolutions. Questions are the real focus of the conversation because if the correct questionis not asked, the necessary answer will not be attained. The Art and Architecture of Asking Questions “A paradigm shift occurs when a question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered from outside it.” Marilee Goldberg Often in the competitive business community, asking powerful and probingquestions; especially in personal interchanges, is eschewed. This aversion is linked toour emphasis on finding quick answers and the time constraints many of us face in ourpersonal and professional lives. We just do not take the time for reflective conversationsthat help explore important circumstances and possibilities before making key decisions.Additionally, many leaders and managers think they are getting paid to solve problemsrather than practice breakthrough thinking so they are strongly motivated to determine the“answer.” With these realities in mind, the development of the art and architecture of askingquestions takes on new meaning and significance. Therefore, the requirements for asking a powerful question are necessary andinclude: • Generates curiosity in the listener, • Stimulates reflective conversation, • Is thought-provoking, • Surfaces underlying assumptions, • Invites creativity and new possibilities, • Generates energy and forward movement, • Channels attention and focuses inquiry, • Stays with participants, • Touches a deep meaning, • Evokes more questions, and • Travels well to other conversations. Obviously, it is a tall order to formulate a question that meets these guidelines. Eric Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs in “The Art of Powerful Questions,” offer three dimensions to questions that assist in the formulation of powerful questions. These
[Type [Type text] text][Type text] [Type text] 4 three dimensions include; construction of a question, scope of a question, and assumptions of a question. Each of these three dimensions will be discussed separately. First: Construction of a Question Construction of a question addresses its linguistic architecture, that is, the language structure rather than the meaning and scope. Given this understanding, the question asked can either open minds to possibilities or narrow them. Thus, the authors have constructed a list of questions from less powerful to most powerful. Their list of less to more powerful questions is as follows; yes/no, which, where, when, who, what, how, and why questions. It is important to note that unless a “why” question is carefully constructed it can stimulate a defensive response as the questioned attempts to justify their response. Generally, a question can become more powerful by moving up the construction scale, for instance, from a “yes/no” question to a “which” question. Second: Scope of a Question To be considered powerful, a question must match its scope with the need of the questioner. That is, the questioner should sculpture and clarify the scope of the question to fit the boundaries and needs of the situation being pursued. To be effective the question should remain within the scope of people’s capacity to implement action resulting in the desired result. Scope and capacity are integral components of powerful questions. Third: Assumptions Within Questions Given the nature of the English language, questions have built in explicit or implicit assumptions. It is critical for the questioner to recognize that the questioned may or may not share those assumptions and as a consequence the question may not produce the desire result. To help eliminate unconscious assumptions and foster powerful questions it is often helpful to ask the following two questions; “What assumptions or beliefs are we holding that are key to the conversation we are having here?,” and “How would we come at this if we held an entirely different belief system than the one we have?” Executive Leadership Coaching Questions
Referring again to “Adaptive Coaching” by Bacon and Spear, they offer acomprehensive discussion of the importance of coaches developing a repertoire ofquestions and emphasize the skills required for moving the dialogue toward insight.Eight types of questions are presented in their book and include the following: 1. Situation questions – do not provoke insight but rather engage memory. 2. Motivation questions – often follow a situation question to uncover a fact and then an understanding of the thinking that led to the fact. 3. Ideal outcome questions - designed to raise the bar and articulate a future possibility. 4. Straw man questions – a situation that does not exist is imagined and then how to close the gap with reality is discussed. 5. Implication questions - designed to explore the consequences of any situation or event. 6. Sensory questions – invoke senses so that feelings can be explored. 7. Columbo questions and statements – ask for clarification through being skeptical. 8. What else questions - encourages continued thinking. Crafting an Engaging Appreciative Inquiry Question Cooperrider, Whitney and Stavros offer the following suggestions for askingquestions when working with groups: 1. Start by discussing the end-in-mind for the discussion or process. 2. Work with colleagues to write down several questions relevant to the topic. 3. Discuss and rate the questions. -‐‑ Which is best constructed to promote reflection and creativity? -‐‑ Which has the right scope for the end-in-mind? -‐‑ What are the underlying assumptions embedded in each question? 4. Experiment with changing the construction and scope to get a feel for how each can change the direction of the inquiry. 5. Give each question the “genuine test.” Is this a question to which we do not already know the answer? If we already know the answer or have a preset right response, it is not inquiry. 6. Run the question by an outside key informant to see how well the question works and where it leads the discussion. The World Café A World Café conversation may be used to explore a single question or several questions.Several rounds of dialogue may be developed to uncover the desired discovery.
[Type [Type text] text][Type text] [Type text] 6 In a World Café conversation context, questions that travel well allow the Café event to move from an opportunity for small talk to a setting for dialogue involving various numbers of stakeholders. The creators of the World Café have identified three key areas of generative questioning that they have found to be useful when attempting to stimulate new knowledge or creative thinking. These lines of questioning are as follows: 1. Questions for Focusing Collective Attention 2. Questions for Connecting Ideas and Finding Deeper Insight 3. Questions That Create Forward Movement. ________________________________________________________________________ “The important thing is to never stop questioning” Albert Einstein Informational Sources 1. Bacon, Terry R. and Karen I. Spear. Adaptive Coaching: The Art and Practice of a Client-Centered Approach to Performance Improvement (Palo Alto: Davies- Black, 2003). 2. Sara L. Orem, Jacqueline Binkert, Ann L. Clancy. Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007). 3. Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House, Phil Sandahl. Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life (Palo Alto: Davies-Black, 1998). 4. David L. Cooperrider, Diana Whitney, Jacqueline M. Stavros. Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: The First in a Series of AI Workbooks for Leaders of Change (Brunswick, Ohio: Crown Custom Publishing, 2005). 5. Brown, Juanita and David Isaacs. The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter (San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler, 2006). 6. The World Café Presents …Café to Go. (World Café Community - Whole Systems Associates)