The Art of Powerful Questions

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“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended 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

Tonight, I will be working with our two Occupational Therapy Students to facilitate a workshop with our Edwardstown Project Leaders on asking good questions with our communities.  This will also be the topic of our July Faith in Action Workshop.  

It is amazing the difference a well framed question can make.  A well framed question can transform a meeting, can overcome flagging moral and can be the doorway for those break-through creative solutions that we all long for in community work.

To give you an example from my own work.  When performing two separate community consultation meetings I asked two similar but subtly different questions.

At the first meeting I asked the question:

  • Who do we need around this table to help us move this forward?

At the second meeting I asked the question

  • If you could introduce us to the 3 most significant people you know in this community, who would they be? 

Both questions were aiming for the same goal: getting participant to draw in a wider group of people into the consultation.

In response to the first question this previously engaged group of community members transformed into consultants: “YOU should invite the police”, “YOU should speak to the local Rotary Club”.

In response to the second question to group drew further in and became more personally committed to and engaged with the conversation: “WE should get my next door neighbour Barry here”, “I know a local police officer who would love to be a part of this”.

The only difference between the two conversations was the question I asked.

In what is a formative text on good questions (The Art of Powerful Questions by by Eric E Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs) the authors point out that within our predominant Australian culture we are so addicted to “right answers” that we often waste all our great answers on the wrong questions.

As leaders we are complicit in this, often because we believe that we have been placed in leadership positions in order to “fix” problems (and we Church leaders can be the greatest offenders) as opposed to facilitating new thinking. So between our culturally ingrained attraction to having a “right answer” and our fear, as the leader, of not-knowing this answer (and therefore being able to “fix” this problem) we stifle our communities collective creative capacity for imagining a new way forward. The only way we can bring out this collective creativity is with really good questions.

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SO WHAT MAKES A GOOD QUESTION?
The best questions are those that can only be answered outside our current way of thinking. That is to say that a great question will be:

INSPIRING. Inspiring questions involve people; engaging their passions, hopes and ideals. People don’t have a lot of energy to give around questions aimed at removing pain or fixing problems but will give a lot if energy around possibility and potential.

POWERFUL. Powerful questions come from a genuine spirit of inquiry and communicate an appreciation for an individuals knowledge.

ENTICING. Enticing questions are familiar enough to be recognisable but different enough to call for a fresh response. (As soon as someone feels a question is beyond their “real life” experience they will revert to an advisory role)

What difference would asking better questions make to your community?

More on excellent questions on the Faith in Action website HERE

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