Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘questioning

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

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Critical thinking can be defined as “learning to think better by improving one’s thinking skills.” Individuals who are critical thinkers use the thinking process to analyze (consider and reflect) and synthesize (piece together) what they have learned or are currently learning. Unfortunately, much of everyone’s thinking tends to be biased, imprecise, unclear, uninformed or prejudiced. Since this becomes severely limiting, critical thinking is needed to improve its quality and value.

Within the organizational setting critical thinking is necessary for: overcoming problems, making changes, modifications or adaptations within work structures, methods and problem solving situations, resolving situational conflict and pressing issues, and inventing and implementing new ideas, techniques and solutions.

Critical thinking development is a gradual process. It requires: mastering plateaus of learning as well as maintaining a serious focus on the process itself, changing personal habits of thought, which tends to be a long-range project, and extensive development time.

Within the process of critical thinking it is important to recognize what does not comprise its basic elements or components. Critical thinking is not accomplished by: saying something without carefully thinking it through, taking a guess at what one thinks “should” be done, memorizing material to analyze, discuss or examine, doing something just because it has always been done, believing something because it is what everyone else tends to believe, or arguing about something when there are no facts to back up the argument.

Critical Thinking Qualities

There are certain qualities critical thinkers possess and these characteristics tend to categorize individuals as “deep thinkers,” which separates them from more typical “basic thinkers.” Critical thinkers tend to be self-disciplined, self-directed, self-monitored and self-corrective thinkers. They raise essential or crucial questions and problems and then proceed to formulate them clearly and precisely. Critical thinkers gather, assemble, evaluate and appraise relevant information. They come to well-reasoned deductions, conclusions and solutions, while measuring and testing them against relevant standards and criteria. They also keep an open mind within alternative systems of thought while continually recognizing and assessing their assumptions and lines of reasoning. Finally, critical thinkers communicate effectively with others in seeking out and determining solutions for challenges and problems.

There tends to be six developmental thinking phases that lead to “mastering” the art of critical thinking. Through extensive practice and applications of the process, individuals can expect to begin altering and eventually changing their individual habits of thought. Each progressive phase is described below.

Phase One: The Unenlightened Thinker — individuals generally are not consciously aware that significant problems do exist within their current patterns of thinking.

Phase Two: The Confronted Thinker — individuals are aware that existing problems are evident or apparent within their process of thinking.

Phase Three: The Novice Thinker — individuals try to initiate improvements within their thinking, but without relying on regular or consistent practice.

Phase Four: The Proactive Thinker — individuals do recognize the importance of regular practice to improve and enhance their thinking.

Phase Five: The Developed Thinker — individuals begin to advance in accordance with the amount of practice that is awarded to the process.

Phase Six: The Mastery Thinker — individuals become skilled and insightful, where reflective, analytical and evaluative thinking becomes second nature.

Individuals can only develop through these phases if they accept the fact that there are serious problems with their current processes and methods of thinking, and are able to accept the challenge that their thinking presents to them and make it a point to begin regular practice to improve and enhance the components and elements of critical thinking.

Critical Thinking Relies Upon Clarity of Purpose

In order to develop critical thinking, it is important for individuals to be clear as to the purpose of the task or topic at hand, and the main question that is at issue in regard to it. To accomplish this goal, it is essential to: strive to be clear, accurate, precise and relevant, practice thinking beneath the surface, be logical and fair-minded, apply critical thinking skills to all reading, writing, speaking and listening activities, and apply these skills to all aspects of work as well as life in general.

Questioning: The Impetus for Critical Thinking

Dead questions reflect dead minds. Unfortunately, most individuals, (even managers, leaders and trainers) tend not to ask many thought-stimulating types of questions. They tend to stick to dead questions like, “Is this going to be what is expected from now on?” or, “How are we supposed to understand (or do) this?” and other questions that outwardly imply the desire not to think.

Some managers, leaders, trainers or facilitators in turn are not themselves generators of in-depth questions and answers of their own making, which aids in establishing non-critical thinking environments. These individuals are not seriously engaged in thinking through or rethinking through their own initiatives, issues, concerns, topics or instructional concepts and resort to being mere purveyors of the “questions and answers of others.” They often end up initiating or responding to some initial concerns or issues that tend to surface spontaneously during a discussion or meeting, without having personal background information that would otherwise help stimulate deeper levels of creative probing and evaluative questioning. Sometimes they tend to apply second-hand information, knowledge or questions that have been passed down, which limits creative assessments and deeper level questioning. Often they find themselves referencing authors or others who are considered to be experts or leaders in their field rather than questioning important workplace-related issues, ideas, methods or concerns that need to be probed in-depth.

Questioning Through Critical Thinking Keeps the Organization Alive

Every company stays alive only to the extent that fresh questions are generated and taken seriously. These questions are then used as the driving force for generating and implementing changes. To think through or rethink anything, individuals within an organization must ask questions that stimulate deeper levels of thought. Questions define tasks, express problems and identify issues. While answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when answers generate further questions does thought continue to add value in terms of personal as well as organizational growth and change.

It is important to remember that individuals within an organization, who generate and ask serious and insightful questions, are the ones who are, in fact, truly thinking, developing and learning. It is possible to move an organization forward by just asking employees to list all of the questions that they have about an issue, method or topic, including all questions generated by their first list of questions. However, deep questions drive out thoughts that rest underneath the surface of things and force individuals to deal with complexity. While questions of purpose force individuals to define “their task,” questions of information force individuals to look at their source(s) of information as well as its quality.

Excerpt: Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Persuasion is a Continuous Feedback Loop

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Effective leadership is based on ongoing input and feedback. Where 20 years ago managers rarely asked for input, today effective leaders are regularly seeking and receiving employee feedback. Leaders elicit cooperation from employees and other individuals when they listen to them. To move employees forward, leaders first identify their needs by asking for their feedback. Identifying employee needs through feedback allows leaders to modify their behavior to serve the best interests of their employees and unit.

Feedback is an effective communication mechanism that enhances productivity and motivation. Leaders use it to create a positive sense of direction that increases efficiency and reduces stress among employees. It empowers employees and gives them ownership in both the ideas and direction driving the organization.

This is important for leaders to appreciate, as studies have shown that employees informed of the organization’s goals and progress are more productive and better able to persevere under difficult circumstances. These are indispensable qualities in the current business climate, as in challenging times the informed employee is more likely to work closely with leaders to resolve problems and stabilize situations. Sharing information rather than withholding it enhances a sense of positive, coordinated teamwork.

The essence of leadership is to persuade others rather than control them. Persuasion is not a one-way process but a continuous feedback loop from employee to leader. The loop incorporates listening, understanding the employee’s point of view and perspectives, and positively responding to their needs. In doing this, the effective leader and persuader is rarely able to change another individual’s behavior or point of view without altering their own approach and perceptions.

When leaders communicate they are in essence selling their ideas to others. To effectively accomplish this they must:

  • Create a dialogue around their idea or concept.
  • Convince others their idea is valid.
  • Actively interact with individuals to brainstorm and solicit new ideas, insights and viewpoints.
  • Build a relationship with them.

This is an extremely productive chain of feedback. It demonstrates to employees that the leader values and respects them. If a leader has failed to persuade others, they have also failed to understand their needs and concerns.

Leaders solicit their employees’ feedback for a number of reasons. Firstly, as imperfect people make decisions, feedback provides continuous testing of an idea or concept against actual conditions and underlying expectations. When leaders solicit feedback, they are asking their employees to question the assumptions behind the idea or concept, examine the expectations connected with it and assess the realistic impact it could have on their organization. This amounts to a mutual search for solutions yielding shared advantages to all parties.

The use of feedback by leaders also enhances their effectiveness. The Drucker Institute reported that when leaders–

  • Ask for input from their employees.
  • Learn from the feedback in a positive and non-defensive attitude.
  • Follow up in a focused and efficient manner.

–they become more effective and are perceived accordingly by their managers, employees and superiors.

The pitfall to avoid is the soliciting of feedback from employees, then reacting emotionally and negatively to any bad news or information, in essence “shooting the messenger.” This only serves to quickly close down communication and replace it with an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia.

Excerpt: Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Related:

Five Critical Steps to Maximize Performance

Execution: Six Action Steps

Performance Plans Create Results and Maximizes Performance

Objectives Allow Managers to Focus on Obtaining Results

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Performance Management: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Maximizing Financial Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

September 17, 2013 at 11:19 am

Why Is The Person Asking The Question In The First Place?

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What is your typical response when asked a challenging question?

  • A blank panicked stare followed by a profusion of sweat.
  • Whoa, that came out of left field.
  • I haven’t learned that yet.
  • I didn’t expect you to ask that.
  • Shall I make a few tries at it before admitting that I don’t know the answer?

All of the above responses tend to be real replies often given by employees during a serious or challenging question and answer process or session. Most know that it isn’t the best way to respond, but failed to know what else to say. To be considered fluent and knowledgeable, it is essential to avoid these responses.

However, before responding to a question always consider a response from the questioner’s perspective. In other words: Why is the person asking the question(s) in the first place?

In order to answer questions appropriately and effectively think about asking yourself these questions:

  • What is the individual looking for?
  • What past challenges might this person have had in the organization or with previous employees?
  • What qualities, skills and experiences can you infer are important to the questioner from the question(s) asked?
  • Are the topics or concerns being questioned about in his or her field of expertise, or out of it?
  • Who is asking the question? The owner, manager or a peer or colleague?

What to Avoid When Answering Questions

When answering questions try not to provide a superficial response to any question. This makes the questioning process muddied, as it slows the progress of getting to the issue at hand, as well as at the heart of the question. Avoid offering a broad or general response because an opportunity will be missed to demonstrate understanding about the topic’s concerns, ramifications and issues. Avoid not answering the question, or skirting around it as it implies to the questioner they are not being listened to and they will become frustrated, and will start to tune out the response to the question. Don’t give generic answers, which implies not mirroring the questioner’s words in the response. If the specifics in the answer are not addressed, the questioner will likely be left with the impression that the responder didn’t listen well, didn’t understand the question, or really didn’t care about the seriousness of the question itself. None of these responses leaves a positive impression on the questioner.

Listen Carefully to What the Question Implies, States and Asks

Listening carefully ensures the question was completely understood and can then be answered effectively, or shows if the question is not as clear and concise as it should be. Listening well is an art that involves good eye contact, body language, and other nonverbal cues. It is essential to pay attention to both what is being said and asked and the manner in which it is delivered. As it may well provide valuable tips to formulate effective responses to the question.

Don’t Interrupt the Questioner

Interrupting someone is not just discourteous, but unprofessional. Not intentionally interrupting the questioner demonstrates the strength of one’s listening skills and ability to respond to the questioner’s inquires and to follow directions. If necessary, it is more effective to clarify the question or at the end, simply ask, “Was the question answered clearly enough?’

Provide a Complete and Precise Response

Take the time to formulate a response and remember that a moment of silence to collect one’s thoughts is always acceptable. Begin the answer with a strong, positive opener including key critical points. Be concise, direct and confident while still providing an adequate amount of detail. When answering a question that has multiple components, section it off to ensure that each point was addressed. For example, you might say, “First, I would ____ then I think I would ____.” After completely responding to one or more complex questions, provide a concise summary as to the whole of the topic or issue presented.

There are certain things to avoid when providing a response, such as: rushing through a response, providing only a superficial answer, trailing off at the end of a question, or not responding to prompts or signals that the questioner wants to hear more.

Prove Experience with Examples and Factual Statements

Share some personal experiences while responding which helps convince the questioner that you have the skills or the ability to transfer your knowledge and reasoning into new avenues of applications, perceptions and thinking.

However, make sure not to: reference the example(s) given, repeatedly use the same example during the question and answer process, choose a poor or inappropriate example, or use a good example, but provide it at the wrong time.

Ensure That Explanations Are Optimized

Most likely it will be impossible to give all the answers the questioner desires. Because of this, it is important to convince the individual that you do have: the potential to find out more about the topic being questioned, the ability to transfer knowledge from one situation to another, and the desire to learn quickly and efficiently.

When providing an explanation do not create a link in experience and events from the past to the present and future or miss the opportunity to build confidence based on personal past experiences.

Volunteer More Information than Is Expected

Volunteer information that might not otherwise be asked about. If you have a particular accomplishment that qualifies within a response and it hasn’t come up in the questioning process, make sure to work it in. Modesty and humility are fine personal traits to have, but certain responses can also be used to “sell yourself,” which at times can be extremely beneficial and useful.

In response to a question don’t leave it up to the questioner to “fish” for information in order to get it or miss the opportunity to share unique details that might make you stand out from other employees or individuals.

Demonstrate Your Level of Knowledge

Within responses, bring in points that support your level of knowledge about what is going on within the organization, department and workplace. Take the opportunity during responses to share what you have gained, your knowledge of the industry, and especially your interest in the company. Express your interest verbally through the words you choose as well as in your actions throughout the question and answer process. If you don’t find opportunities to work in certain points of knowledge and interest during the ongoing question and answer process, address it at the end when you are given the opportunity to say something, (which is usually when you are asked if you have any more questions).

When responding to a question, make sure not to let your nervousness and response performance override your interest and enthusiasm during the questioning process or miss opportunities to share your understandings and viewpoints.

Respond Positively to Questions

It is important to frame your responses positively. This can be challenging when asked a question that you do not have an answer for, or when asked about experiences that you don’t yet have. A person can prepare him or herself in advance by anticipating these types of questions, and learning techniques to respond positively.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

Not All Questions Are Created Equally

The Importance of Intellectual Honesty

Attention to Minor Details Averts Major Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

The Use and Application of Advanced Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

September 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

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The tactical approach to questioning is a highly disciplined process. The questioner must take on the role of acting as “an inner critical voice,” which expands another’s mind to skillfully develop deeper critical thinking abilities.

Questioning for thought provoking insight and understanding, and for inducing more in-depth thinking in another individual requires a tactical approach. For instance, verbal contributions that come from employees when they are questioned can be compared to an array of numerous thoughts that simultaneously flow from one’s mind. Yet, all of the thoughts must be dealt with, weighed, and carefully analyzed in an unbiased and fair manner.

If leaders or managers follow up on all of the answers initially given by employees with further questions that work to advance the discussion, employees are forced to think in a disciplined, intellectually responsible manner. At the same time the questioning process continually aids their own personal agenda to gain more insight and knowledge through posing selective, yet effective facilitating discussion lead-ins.

The oldest and still most powerful tool for instilling critical thinking and mental self-evaluation, is questioning. In order to glean and gather as much usable information as possible, and to change individual perceptions about something, leaders and managers must remain focused on interjecting questions to employees, rather than offering answers.

It is important to practice and model the inquiry process, by continually probing employees on topics, subject-related contexts or mental thinking patterns through the use of very specific questions. The abilities individuals gain by becoming involved in the process and by focusing on the elements of reasoning in a disciplined and self-assessing way tend to enhance employees’ sensitivity to others’ points of view, problem solving and decision making skills. A solid questioning process also helps provide a more balanced mental structure and framework to use in the future, which results from generating and incorporating logical mental relationships that tend to enhance more disciplined thought.

There are three basic ways to instill changes and alterations in employees’ thinking: questioning them for viewpoints and perspectives, questioning them for implications and consequences, and questioning them about the question being asked.

Questioning for Viewpoints and Perspectives

As the discussion and questioning leader, it is important encourage employees to slow their thinking down in order to elaborate upon their responses. Employees must be given the opportunity to develop and test their ideas, standpoints and opinions. Leaders must take employee responses seriously and determine to what extent and in what way the information or assertion is true, or if it makes sense. In order to do this, they need to wonder aloud what the employee is saying and thinking, what the person means, the response’s significance, its relationship to other beliefs, and how what is being said can be tested for its reliability.

Most arguments employees give are from a particular, yet structured point of view. As part of the “questioning for viewpoints and perspectives” process, it is essential to attack the argument from a tactical position. It is often necessary to demonstrate that there may be other, equally valid, viewpoints. Some examples of specific questions that are able to generate alternative viewpoints include:

  • What else could be accomplished by doing ____?
  • If we don’t have access to ____ or can’t use ____, what do you think should be done?
  • What are the positives and negatives of ____?
  • How do you think ____ and ____ are alike?
  • Another way to think about this is ____, do you agree?

Implications and Consequences Questions

The argument that employees often give may have logical implications, which can be forecasted. From an “implications and consequence questioning” position, employees should have their arguments challenged. The process requires them to think about if their argument or stance makes sense from a logical standpoint, and if what they say, is desirable and meaningful. Some examples of argument challenging questions include:

  • What are you implying by saying that?
  • What else does this remind you of?
  • How does this information fit into the things we have already learned?
  • What implications does ____ have on this?
  • Why is this necessary to know?
  • What do you think would happen next?
  • What is an alternative to this?
  • If what you said happened, what else could happen as a result? Why?

Questions About the Question

Questions about the question tend to be more reflective. Their purpose is to turn an argument, statement or question back onto itself. In other words, leaders can use questions like the ones below to bounce the ball back onto the employees’ personal argument, position or stance:

  • How can we find out more about what you are saying (or asking)?
  • What assumptions does this question imply?
  • Why do you feel this question is important?
  • To answer this particular question, what questions would have to be answered first?
  • Does this certain question ask us to evaluate something in particular?
  • What is the point of asking about ____?
  • Why do you think the question you asked is important for (me, us) to consider?
  • Why did you phrase this particular question in the way that you did?
  • Does this question fit into the context of our discussion?
  • What does this particular (question, stance, position or opinion) imply?
  • Is it possible to break this question down at all into one or two other ones?
  • Do you think this question is an easy or hard one to answer? Why?
  • Does this question seem clear to you?

Excerpt: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

Why Is The Person Asking The Question In The First Place?

Making the Questions as Important as the Answers

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

The Use and Application of Advanced Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Comprehensive Questioning: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

 

Questions Should Mirror Employees’ Sense of Adventure, Interest and Curiosity

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Within the workplace leaders need to emphasize the importance of questioning, and can do this by welcoming all those “why” and “how” questions, and asking a lot of them personally as well. Routine, rigidity and tight boundaries tend to snuff out the questioning process before it begins to achieve any glimmer of light, hope or momentum.

Leaders need to be content with leaving many questions unanswered, and by so doing, create a collection of unknown working elements that offer evidence to the prominent place that curiosity holds within the organization. Leaders can use questions and answers to make the employees’ work life and environment curious and exciting. To do this, questions should mirror employees’ sense of adventure, interest and curiosity. Observing and questioning their world of work helps to establish an outstanding and superb sense of teamwork.

To Make Questions as Important as Answers Safeguard Employees Against Excessive Organizational Routines

Organizational cultures often hinder the attainment of positive workplace growth and development when they tend to allow, incorporate, or spread, a bland veneer of “sameness” or a status quo of “apathy” throughout the working environment and workplace landscape. Faced with a bland, dominated working landscape, it is up to leaders to find ways to liberate their employees from the continuous shaping of ideas, opinions and the peer pressure of “sameness.” Employees can be freed from these organizational culture constraints by becoming good questioners.

When employees are surrounded by leaders and supervisors who provide immediate, simplistic responses to all the questions they ask, a false impression is created that emphasizes, “Answers do not require serious thought or ingenuity.” Employees are prevented from observing firsthand just how initial questions spawn additional ones, which eventually lead to fresh answers. As a result, they tend to lose out on the opportunity to experience mind searching, analyzing and decision making.

Look at Questions and Answers as Part of an Uncompleted Puzzle

Working environments tend to present an endless supply of puzzles. The only problem is, many employees spend most of their time and lives avoiding puzzles and serious questions. Yet, if every question has a quick and easy answer, the purpose of inquiry is lost.

Puzzles within the mind tend to arouse a sense of curiosity and stimulate questioning. While some employees may be bewildered when first attempting to figure something out, good questions will start to break up their mental log jam and begin to unlock everyone’s frozen thinking, while at the same time, setting them on the path to greater understanding.

Puzzle avoidance leads to stagnation and a healthy organization keeps its employees’ heads out of the sand and tries to see what is coming in order to be prepared. A proactive group of employees learns to wrestle with difficult questions and predicaments rather than rely upon recipes and formulas, which may have worked in the past.

If leaders provide a continuous menu of workplace puzzles to decipher, employees will develop at a faster pace, feeling confident and resourceful in the process. Ingenuity and skill will grow faster and when confronted by a problem, quandary or an impossible situation, employees will less likely to be shaken or fearful. Over time, they will actually begin to greet dilemmas as a “challenge and a test of ingenuity.” However, at certain times it is important for leaders to make it a point to answer some questions, especially more complex or wide open ones, with an admission of ignorance or uncertainty.

There is no such thing as a  “right question” or “truly perfect sequence” to search out answers since effective questioning tends to require a certain amount of “mind mining” and “muddling around.” Tough questions are intended to invoke some trial-and-error reasoning engagement and outcomes.

Dilemmas, paradoxes and perplexities all deserve and require some “messy questioning” that is balanced by a degree of disciplined, logical inquiry. Thinkers who are able to “shift gears” from the right to left side of the brain, and back and forth between logic and license, will typically generate deeper and more workable insights.

Maintain a Focus on the Importance of Questioning

One of the goals leaders should have is to teach their employees how to find or fashion satisfying answers to work-related puzzles by learning to ask good questions in effective sequences and combinations. As part of their human nature, most employees will tend to seek stability, predictability and certainty in an uncertain world, instead of embracing the challenges associated with it. Instead of learning to use good questions to adapt and adjust to a changing world, they more often than not, adopt a “foxhole” mentality. However, without experience handling unanswerable questions, employees will not be prepared to deal with the riddles of work and life.

As a second goal, it is up to leaders to share a sense of wonderment at the vastness of “what is unknown.” In this regard, questions will often end up becoming a collection of segmented pieces and bits of inquiry whose answers are as confusing as individual puzzle pieces that have no frame or outline to place them into. The question becomes, “How can employees be motivated to relish the challenge to find complex or difficult answers and solutions and how well will they be able to deal with ambiguity?”

When leaders treasure and value the “mysterious and unknowable,” and extensively question things themselves, always seeking answers (even if certain solutions remain abstract, unreliable or unattainable) their employees will tend to become more prepared to deal with the puzzles of everyday situations, events, issues, as well as unforeseeable future occurrences.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

Making the Questions as Important as the Answers

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Comprehensive Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

The Use and Application of Advanced Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Questioning Positions Advance the Dialogue

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Before asking questions, it is essential to know from what position an individual wishes to ask something. It is part of the questioning process to determine the stance he or she needs or wants to take in order to obtain the desired information. It is useful to adhere to the following steps in order to begin defining and determining question positioning.

First, the issue, concern or topic must be defined along with restrictions or expansions. Next, the main topic or issue “aspect,” or the angle or point of view on the matter is identified. The “aspect” often includes a phrase within a certain question that tends to end in “of,” as in “the importance of” or “the implications of.”

It is essential to be clear about how the “aspect” relates to the topic at hand. Aspect questions can reflect an example, a point of view, a stage in the questioning sequence, a cause and effect relationship within the topic or issue, or even one solution that represents a problem in regard to it.

The questioning “aspect,” which often comes at the beginning, must also be identified along with what it means and what it requires in terms of incorporating specific words and phrases. The particular viewpoint must be delineated as well as whether it is the same one the questioner wants the responder(s) to have.

The individual asking questions should not jump to conclusions about what they consider to be an acceptable answer. Different questioning positions or stances should be applied to move dialogue and information-gathering forward.

Below is a list of the most common questioning positions to take with examples.

Account for – Requires an answer that gives the reasons for the subject of the question:

  • Can you tell me why there is a need for the large-scale production cutbacks?”

Analyze – Requires an answer that breaks an idea, concept or statement down in order to consider all of its components. Answers of this type should be very methodical and logically organized:

  • “How do you go about isolating the changes in company policy toward our competitors?”

Compare – Requires an answer that sets items side by side and shows their similarities and differences. A balanced, fair and objective answer is expected:

  • “Will you tell me about the contribution of our research development and product testing in regard to the product distribution cycle?”

Consider – Requires an answer in which the responder describes and offers his or her thoughts on the subject:

  • “In what way has our human resources management department been involved in the training of our employees?”

Contrast – Requires an answer that points out the differences between two items:

  • “Will you inform me about the various positive and negative factors and influences in regard to our major competitive products?”

Criticize – Requires a balanced answer that points out mistakes or weaknesses, or one that also indicates any favorable aspects of the topic or subject of the question.

  • “To what extent is an understanding of the various approaches useful or not useful for allowing us to make better sense of existing employment relationships?”

Define – Requires an answer that explains the precise meaning of a concept. A definition answer will include definition structure, and one that is likely expanded.

  • What does the concept of ‘management roles’ mean to our managers?”

Describe – Requires an answer that explains what something is like or how it works:

  • “Will you enlighten me about the criteria used for determining the company’s expenditure policy?”

Discuss – Requires an answer that explains an item or concept and offers details about the topic or issue with supportive information or examples, and can point for and/or against something, where explanations for the facts are brought to the forefront. It is important to give both sides of an argument and come to a conclusion:

  • “Will you help me understand the main requirements of the law in respect to employer-employee relationships?”

Evaluate/Assess – Requires an answer that decides and explains how valuable or important something is. The judgment should be backed by a discussion of the evidence or reasoning involved:

  • How would you factor the contribution of our customer service policy into this situation?”

Explain – Requires an answer that offers a rather detailed and exact explanation of an idea or principle, or a set of reasons for a situation or attitude:

  • “What exactly is the concept of management roles?”

Explore – Requires an answer that thoroughly examines the subject or topic and considers it from a variety of viewpoints:

  • “Will you tell me more about the economies and diseconomies of our company’s various profit centers?”

Expound – Requires an answer that explains what something means and renders points clear and coherent:

  • “What deductions can be made after studying the graph exhibited in element C?”

Illustrate – Requires an answer that consists primarily of examples to demonstrate or prove the subject, topic or inference within the question. It is often added to another response or question:

  • “To what extent does the public participate in the research and development process?”

Justify – Requires an answer that gives only the reasons for a particular position or argument. The issue to be argued may be a negative one as well as positive:

  • “What factors determine client and customer demands?”

Prove/Disprove – Both of these require answers that demonstrate the logical arguments and/or evidence connected with an idea or proposition. Proving requires “pro” points; disproving “contra” points:

  • “Will you give me a verbal description as to the functional importance of the IT department in its current operational capacity?”

State – Requires an answer that briefly and clearly expresses relevant points without lengthy discussion of minor details:

  • “Our company is often at a disadvantage when dealing with industry at a technical level. What do you think we can do about it?”

Summarize/Outline – Requires an answer that contains only the main points of the information available on a topic, issue or subject. Questions of this type often require short answers:

  • “Will you support your answer through detailing a typical profile of where it applies and how?”

To What Extent Is This True? – Requires an answer that discusses and explains the ways in which something is true and untrue:

  • “Could you please disclose some of the ramifications of employee behavior in situations involving authority?”

Trace – Requires a statement and brief description in logical or chronological order of the stages or steps in the development of a theory, concept, process, etc.:

  • Will you detail examples of the use of positive and negative behaviors in workplace situations and some of their recent applications, hindrances and limitations?”

Excerpt: Comprehensive Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

Seven Components of Critical Thinking

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

The Use and Application of Advanced Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

with 5 comments

questionsdiscussions

The tactical approach to questioning is a highly disciplined process. The questioner must take on the role of acting as “an inner critical voice,” which expands another’s mind to skillfully develop deeper critical thinking abilities.

Questioning for thought provoking insight and understanding, and for inducing more in-depth thinking in another individual requires a tactical approach. For instance, verbal contributions that come from employees when they are questioned can be compared to an array of numerous thoughts that simultaneously flow from one’s mind. Yet, all of the thoughts must be dealt with, weighed, and carefully analyzed in an unbiased and fair manner.

If leaders or managers follow up on all of the answers initially given by employees with further questions that work to advance the discussion, employees are forced to think in a disciplined, intellectually responsible manner. At the same time the questioning process continually aids their own personal agenda to gain more insight and knowledge through posing selective, yet effective facilitating discussion lead-ins.

The oldest and still most powerful tool for instilling critical thinking and mental self-evaluation, is questioning. In order to glean and gather as much usable information as possible, and to change individual perceptions about something, leaders and managers must remain focused on interjecting questions to employees, rather than offering answers.

It is important to practice and model the inquiry process, by continually probing employees on topics, subject-related contexts or mental thinking patterns through the use of very specific questions. The abilities individuals gain by becoming involved in the process and by focusing on the elements of reasoning in a disciplined and self-assessing way tend to enhance employees’ sensitivity to others’ points of view, problem solving and decision making skills. A solid questioning process also helps provide a more balanced mental structure and framework to use in the future, which results from generating and incorporating logical mental relationships that tend to enhance more disciplined thought.

There are three basic ways to instill changes and alterations in employees’ thinking: questioning them for viewpoints and perspectives, questioning them for implications and consequences, and questioning them about the question being asked.

Questioning for Viewpoints and Perspectives

As the discussion and questioning leader, it is important encourage employees to slow their thinking down in order to elaborate upon their responses. Employees must be given the opportunity to develop and test their ideas, standpoints and opinions. Leaders must take employee responses seriously and determine to what extent and in what way the information or assertion is true, or if it makes sense. In order to do this, they need to wonder aloud what the employee is saying and thinking, what the person means, the response’s significance, its relationship to other beliefs, and how what is being said can be tested for its reliability.

Most arguments employees give are from a particular, yet structured point of view. As part of the “questioning for viewpoints and perspectives” process, it is essential to attack the argument from a tactical position. It is often necessary to demonstrate that there may be other, equally valid, viewpoints. Some examples of specific questions that are able to generate alternative viewpoints include:

  • What else could be accomplished by doing ____?
  • If we don’t have access to ____ or can’t use ____, what do you think should be done?
  • What are the positives and negatives of ____?
  • How do you think ____ and ____ are alike?
  • Another way to think about this is ____, do you agree?

Implications and Consequences Questions

The argument that employees often give may have logical implications, which can be forecasted. From an “implications and consequence questioning” position, employees should have their arguments challenged. The process requires them to think about if their argument or stance makes sense from a logical standpoint, and if what they say, is desirable and meaningful. Some examples of argument challenging questions include:

  • What are you implying by saying that?
  • What else does this remind you of?
  • How does this information fit into the things we have already learned?
  • What implications does ____ have on this?
  • Why is this necessary to know?
  • What do you think would happen next?
  • What is an alternative to this?
  • If what you said happened, what else could happen as a result? Why?

Questions About the Question

Questions about the question tend to be more reflective. Their purpose is to turn an argument, statement or question back onto itself. In other words, leaders can use questions like the ones below to bounce the ball back onto the employees’ personal argument, position or stance:

  • How can we find out more about what you are saying (or asking)?
  • What assumptions does this question imply?
  • Why do you feel this question is important?
  • To answer this particular question, what questions would have to be answered first?
  • Does this certain question ask us to evaluate something in particular?
  • What is the point of asking about ____?
  • Why do you think the question you asked is important for (me, us) to consider?
  • Why did you phrase this particular question in the way that you did?
  • Does this question fit into the context of our discussion?
  • What does this particular (question, stance, position or opinion) imply?
  • Is it possible to break this question down at all into one or two other ones?
  • Do you think this question is an easy or hard one to answer? Why?
  • Does this question seem clear to you?

Excerpt: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

Why Is The Person Asking The Question In The First Place?

Making the Questions as Important as the Answers

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

The Use and Application of Advanced Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Comprehensive Questioning: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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