Greek philosophers and Talmudic scholars taught us that asking the right questions lead to a depth of understanding and learning. Asking good questions today remains an essential tool for building understanding and is critical for enabling collaboration. Today’s workplaces, communities and social networks are in desperate need for ways to have difficult conversations and a contemporary corollary may be as easy as asking questions at four distinct levels of understanding: Objective, Reflective, Interpretive and Decisional.
Navigating A Tough Conversation
When a conversational road is rocky, having a formula to navigate the conversation flow can make a big difference. Asking questions can not only make the most of group member wisdom and experience, it also can help to move a meeting from one person's talking to the entire group's taking action. While there are many questions one might consider asking in any given situation, there are certain systematic methods for asking questions that can actually promote understanding and productive dialogue.
The Focused Conversation Method, developed by the Institute for Cultural Affairs, is built around a highly effective questioning technique that is relatively easy to learn, has wide applications and can quickly demonstrate results. The four-part method is built on the premise that productive group conversations benefit from all participants engaging in the conversation as listeners or speakers. It also follows the same sequence as to how people process information.
Using the Focused Conversation Method
The Focused Conversation involves formulating and asking questions that provoke thoughtful dialogue and promote maximum input from the group. The structure of this process consists of asking questions that mirror the way people process so that the group gets at information at all four levels of the critical thinking process: the objective, reflective, interpretive and decisional levels.
Questions Provide Structure, Welcome Diversity
Asking and answering questions in this systematic way can lay the foundation for consensus building. This particular structure promotes a dialogue that acknowledges diverse points of view and guides the conversation through tough terrain. It capitalizes on the brainpower of all the group members and takes them through a natural information exploration process together.
It results in better, clearer decision making because participants are able to see and consider a situation from many different vantage points. This type of dialogue creates a context upon which consensus can then be built, and it also reveals those areas where consensus may already exist. At the conclusion of a Focused Conversation, participants cannot only see where they might agree and disagree, but have an understanding about how they got there.
To navigate the rough road of tough conversation and leverage both the intellectual capital and good will of people it's critical to ask the right questions which foster understanding. Mastering the focused conversation is a good start!
For more information: The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace (R. Brian Stanfield) or The Art of Focused Conversation for Schools: Over 100 Ways to Guide Clear Thinking and Promote Learning (Jo Nelson)
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