“In a heated argument over whether slaves have souls (the ancient Greeks believed that only smart people would have eternal life), Socrates bet a case of mead (Greek for Bud Light) that he could teach a common slave the Pythagorean theorem (the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides). He had no overhead projector, handouts, or textbook. He needed only two tools to teach the slave: (1) the capacity to ask questions and (2) the ability to listen carefully to the meaning behind the answer. To this day the method behind his bold bet is memorialized as Socratic teaching.” — Chip Bell
The ability to ask good questions is one of your most valuable tools in building your team. When you ask good questions you allow the other person to define the issue or problem for themselves and then solve the issue or problem by themselves. Both of which are a win for you and a win for the other person.
Chip Bell offers a great model for asking questions that includes the following:
- Start by establishing the context (a setup statement, not a question).
- Ask questions that require higher level thinking. For example, force a comparison or ask the person to “dig deep.” It’s more than just “open” verses “closed” questions. It’s asking questions to discover understanding.
- Avoid “why” questions, that tend to be seen as judgmental. We may not know why. (And if you already know why, then don’t ask the question in the first place.)
- Make it fun. Stimulate their curiosity.
In the end, any question that can only be answered with a story is probably a good question. Most of us hate questions, but few of us have trouble telling our own story. After all, when you tell your story there is no wrong answer, and it doesn’t need to be memorized or rehearsed. So, ask good questions, and then stop talking and start listen. Your team will be glad you did.