Questions are the engine that drive collaborative conversations


The collaborative facilitator knows that questions make things happen. Questions are the engine that drives healthy and productive group conversation.

A few years ago, I took a workshop, on facilitation and asking questions, from Dorothy Strachan in Ottawa, Ontario. She has been a facilitator for a long time, and is an expert in asking questions that work; of matching the right question to the right moment in a particular situation with a particular group of people.  Her publications are an excellent resource for collaboration-oriented facilitators wanting to use questions as a cornerstone of their facilitation.

Since that workshop I’ve reflected further on the value of questions. One of my professional hats is mediation. As a practicing mediator who deals with people in conflict, I’m continually being reminded and surprised by what can happen when curiosity is applied; through asking questions, digging deeper, and peeling the onion.

At present you need to live the question.  This quote from the famous poet Rainer Maria Rilke is all about the love of questions themselves, of being present in the moment, of engaging, of not looking for quick-fix answers. In time, maybe the answers will come. Maybe!

What happens from being curious and suspending judgement is that new opportunities can surface. Asking questions, followed by active listening to hear others out, to hear their story, builds trust and authentic conversation. When people are ready, when they’re comfortable, they’ll share their thoughts, their ideas. It’s the genesis of organizational creativity and innovation.

Peter Drucker once said the most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said, i.e., read between the lines. How do we read between the lines? Being present in the moment, being curious, and asking effective questions will all contribute to our understanding of what isn’t being said, what’s between the lines.

In your organization, when things aren’t being said, when there’s that (invisible) elephant in the room, what types of questions do you like to see asked?

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