What Inquiry Makes PossibleSeptember 2, 2010 4 Comments
A couple of weeks ago I worked with a special group of special education facilitators who will be helping to coordinate key players in their school district to provide services to students with different learning needs. This work will put these people in some difficult circumstances when it comes to occasionally not being able to provide exactly what parents want for their children. For this reason, we spent a fair amount of time talking about how one can be of service when faced with irreconcilable differences. Much of this came down to staying grounded in one’s values, continuing to regard the humanity of those of others, and standing firm for what the district could reasonably provide.
What I also also saw on display for those three days was the incredible power of artful and compassionate inquiry. Many scenarios that we worked through (via role playing and coaching), including those that seemed beyond the pale of any kind of helpful intervention, were altered when the intervenor asked the right question, at the right time, in the right way. One example was when two participants experienced a breakthrough as one coached the other by asking the question, “What is your perception of this situation?” not once, not twice, but three times. She did not ask, “What is the problem?” sensing there was something in the way the situation was being viewed that might provide some opportunity for resolution. Sure enough, the third time the question was asked, the person being questioned got it. “There’s something I can do to alter the situation by recognizing I’ve been choosing to a see it a certain way that may or may not have anything to do with reality.”
This session coincidentally timed with my re-reading of Fran Peavey’s work on strategic questioning. She writes,
“Questioning reveals the profound uncertainty that is imbedded in all reality beyond the facades of confidence and sureness. It takes this uncertainty towards growth and new possibilities.”
Peavey’s seven key features to shaping strategic questions are most helpful in this regard:
- A strategic question creates motion. It asks, “How can we move from where we are now?”
- A strategic question creates options.
- A strategic question avoids “Why?” which can create resistance.
- A strategic question avoids “Yes or No” answers, which limit depth and possibility.
- A strategic question is empowering, it creates confidence. Rather than ask “What is wrong with us?” ask “What will it take for us to be different?”
- A strategic question asks the unaskable questions – think The Emperor’s New Clothes.
- A strategic question is a simple sentence; it is elegant in its simplicity.
Would love to hear your stories about how inquiry has opened up possibility for you and others.