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Effective Questions – Staying on track and positive  
 
Ever have one of those days? When it feels like you’ve endured one long meeting, after another and another?

And have you noticed how often people get bogged down in the same issues, going over the same ground you talked about the last time you got together?

Somewhere between your positive intentions and reaching consensus on the best path forward, getting sucked into an unproductive, time wasting swamp is way too easy.

And while it may be true that he who asks the questions controls the conversation, it seems equally true that if people can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about their answers.

Keeping your feet dry
Ask the wrong question and you can end up in a quagmire of justification and finger pointing. We've all been there. So how do you keep meetings positive and focused on the outcome?

  • When you hear yourself asking a Why question like …

    Why did you do it this way?”
    Why didn’t they ask for help?”
    Why can’t marketing follow instructions?”
    Why don’t you ….?”

    STOP! While those questions may explain how you got where you are, they also force people into defending their decisions. They dig in rather than finding a path forward.
  • Instead use How or What questions.

    How did you decide that?”
    How is that working for you?”
    What led you to that conclusion?”
     

You can soften your questions with “I’m curious,” “I’m wondering” or “Do you mind if I ask” at the beginning. As in “Do you mind if I ask how you decided to …?”

Answer a question with a question
What if you’re the target of a why question?

  • Neutralize and redirect why questions with a question of your own. Ask ...

    “How does answering that move us forward?” or
    “Is this where we want to put our energy and attention?”

A ladder or a shovel?
The more you challenge the soundness of someone’s position, the more they’ll feel compelled to defend it. So use your questions like a ladder, stretching up to something you can both agree on. Work out the details only after you have agreement on a common purpose, or a shared value.

  • First, acknowledge their position by repeating back their words, beliefs and emotions (pacing in NLP terms.) Agree with them if you can.

    “I sense you feel very strongly about ________.”
    “You believe that ___________.”
    “So it’s important for you that we ________”
     
  • Then shift the focus from the specifics of the situation to a bigger picture of what they want to achieve. The value or purpose behind their position will be a more inclusive outcome.

    "How is that important for you?" and "What is important for you about that?"
    "What will this do for you or us?"
    "What is your intention?"
    "How does that move us towards our outcome to ____?"

Stop digging
If you find you’ve already been sucked into a swamp ...

  • Cut your losses with questions like these:

    "What do we have to do to make things more the way we want them to be?"
    "Is there anything we can do about (the problem) right now?"
    "If so, what is the first step we will take?"

     

    "If not, how can we accept/make peace with what we cannot change?"
    "If we have to go through this anyway, what can we learn/get out of it?"
    "What are we willing to stop doing or give up in order to have conditions more the way we want them"

Remember the power of expectations
If people think a solution is unreachable, their efforts will reflect it!

Create positive expectations using so far and yet.

  • As in “we haven’t figured it out, yet” or “so far, we haven’t found the solution.”

Memory is imperfect
People do forget, delete or distort information. And sometimes the players change. So it's a good idea to keep a running visible record of commitments.

    "We can _____ if you _____ by this date."

A flip chart is an easy way to record and transport agreements and commitments. (Remember NASA’s extensive and costly search for the best writing instrument for space travel? In the end they discovered ... pencils!!)

Keep the chart current with when the commitments were actually met. And use them when players change and/or delete or distort the facts.
                                                   

Creating a path for change ...

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