How to ask a powerful question

The Knowledge Management Task & Finish group have been looking at various KM interventions, and considering the importance of how to gather the right information. We came across an interesting article on the Wes MD blog[1] about asking powerful questions, and that made us think about the importance of questioning in KM. Laura Wilkes describes the key aspects of powerful questioning and how this can contribute to a powerful KM intervention.

When we are trying to elicit information or knowledge from someone, particularly tacit knowledge, how do we ask questions which trigger meaningful conversations?

We all know how to avoid the pitfalls of asking closed questions, but what is the difference between a closed question and a powerful question? The answer is a powerful question is one that compels others to think.

A powerful question is one that promotes deeper thinking and it is the thought process which follows that question that compels the recipient to dig deeper into their experience, rather than giving a quick, off the cuff response.

This kind of intentional thinking is something we rarely take the time to do, but it provides an opportunity to pause and think, which increases the quality and validity of the eventual response.

Pause being the key word, here – a pause allows for reflection, which is an indication that you have asked a really good question. Resist the temptation to fill the ensuing silence, allow the thought process to complete. Learn to be comfortable with silence.

Keep those questions short and concise and try not to ask a double question, such as ‘What didn’t work for you and what did you learn from it?’

Instead, you could try some of these alternatives, particularly in After Action Reviews or when facilitating focus groups:

  • What makes this project work?
  • What stands in the way of you reaching your goals?
  • What’s on the drawing board now?
  • What worries you?
  • How do you want us to measure your impact?
  • What’s next for you?

And finally, don’t ask leading questions. Step back from the situation, think carefully about the kind of questions that will elicit a thought-out response, ask the question and then, wait. Wait some more, don’t interrupt, just wait.

Tip: You could practice asking powerful questions in your interactions with others during the course of the next week. Aim to take others you are speaking with to deeper levels in their thinking.

You can contact the group via emily.hopkins@nw.hee.nhs.uk

[1] http://wesmd.com/powerful-questions/

One thought on “How to ask a powerful question

  1. Completely agree with this and this triggered me to reflect on some similarities here with coaching skills. Others out there with mentoring and coaching skills development and experience will recognise some of the techniques (and more) described here, which can trigger powerful learning in an individual or team. Posing the right question at the right time can lead others to that ‘double-loop learning’ that is so powerful in developing people’s knowledge. I would recommend coaching skills development to anyone interested in developing their ‘facilitation’ skills – whether they apply those in a workshop, line management or parenting situation!

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