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Better Questions - Using The Best Language

I was chatting to a lady this week who had been trying out her new found questioning skills with mixed results. She had found that when she used Better Questions with her brother in the context of encouraging him to get clearer about his ideal career direction that she got a response where he said he didn’t know what he really wanted.

Her reaction to this was to revert to a more telling and advising stance because she honestly felt that she had tried to question and be a Potentialiser and found that it didn’t work in this instance. I can understand that this would be a natural choice to make as I think when we try new things and find they don’t work we go back to using a tried and tested approach that has worked for us in the past. Whilst I am not saying her approach was wrong, I did encourage her to reflect on the experience to see if there was any other way that she could have approached it.

In this discussion it was interesting to note the language that she used in her questioning, particularly when she was encouraging him to say what his ideas were. We determined that the question asked was something like “What would you like to do?”, which on the face of it seems to be a good question – it’s open and is inviting an opportunity for him to express his ideas. However as we discussed the question, particularly given that this ladies' brother was often reluctant to take responsibility, it became clear that there was too much pressure being applied by the language she had used. What I mean by this can be demonstrated best by me comparing two questions that appear on one level to be the same:

•    “What would you like to do?”
•    “What are some ideas about what you could do?”

I hope that you can see immediately that one question asks for a definitive answer, the other question asks for ideas or possibilities. In the mind of the person being asked the question, the first of the questions almost suggests 'you have to know the right answer' whereas the second question gives permission to ‘play’ with ideas. Given that in this instance the brother was not used to having to make choices the softer version of the question was far more likely to get a response than the more direct version.

Whllst I cannot guarantee that even if she had have asked the other version of the question she would have gotten a response, I would like to suggest that the likelihood would have increased because of the language used.

Another option we discussed, was to allow her brother a little time to think about his response rather than immediately jumping into ‘teller’ mode and the lady acknowledged that both of these options were definitely worth exploring.

So my advice here is to not give up too easily when you try using Better Questions – it is always good practice to think about the language you have used and have a go at rewording the question as you will be surprised how powerful this can be in encouraging an answer.

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