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QUESTIONING MY QUESTIONS

January 11, 2017

 

 

I wanted to share with you two pieces of feedback I received while facilitating content I hadn’t facilitated before. It is very specific feedback but because it’s aligned with much of what we discussed in week one, I thought I would share.

 

The fact that I am thinking of this feedback, and hopefully change in behaviour, as a technical change and not an adaptive change is commentary on how some of my mind has shifted around change, specifically as a coach developer.

 

 

As a start, it had been a long long time since I facilitated anything that wasn’t either written by me or content I research and talk about every day. That changed in a hurry when I arrived in Tokyo – I often found myself outside the well-referenced comfort zone. I was in a new country, with a multi-national, multi-sport group of very experienced participants. This was all very new to me.

 

Following my facilitated sessions, I felt good about the feedback I was receiving. I’m not sure why I would have felt bad about any feedback because it was an opportunity to grow and not an exercise in ego-stroking. But, this said, I was given nice compliments on my use of questions, trying to stimulate thinking, initiate problem solving; things that I think I do quite well, but…..

 

 

As many of us know and have experienced, the use of questions isn’t simply asking questions and hope it all works out. What questions to ask, the timing of the questions, how often to ask questions, the need to restate your questions were all things we debriefed about.

 

I certainly have some things to learn about questioning, especially around the delivery of the questions. It was agreed I was using them at the right time and for all the right reasons but there were two factors influencing the final objectives of the question:

 

 

1. Based on feedback and some reflection activities I discovered that a fair number of my questions were actually an exercise in the learners trying to “read my mind” and “guess” what I was thinking rather than thinking about solutions or new ideas. Never before had I ever considered this. In my opinion, I’d estimate half my questions now feel like they were exercises in mind reading and not active learning.

 

2. Rephrasing questions was making the learners confused to what I was actually asking. There is definitely time to rephrase or support the learners to understand the question, but I now have to consider when and how I do that. During one of my debriefs, Penny called it layering questions on questions. Even though these questions were designed to garner the same inquiry and answers it was muddying the waters. What started as a great question potentially turns messy.

 

An example of layering might be “What are the parts of a practice plan you might use? (pause 5 seconds), in other words what are you going to do during a practice? (pause 5 seconds), how would you plan a practice?”

 

These are three questions attempting to get to the same end-game but they are different questions that have three different answers, confusing the learner by sending them in three different directions. Not only can it send the learner on an unexpected detour it can derail any group activities.

 

In short, amongst many other things, my take away for this part of training:

 

  1. Ask questions that engage the learner in thinking about their answer, not what I’m thinking.

 

  2. Simple, clean questions, delivered one at at time are much more effective.

 

 

I have facilitated almost 20 full days this fall and I have tried to make some adjustments in the development and delivery of my questions. I have discovered much like a golfer; old habits die hard. In an attempt to model the behaviour of Kaizen (Japanese for constant improvement) I have been explicit in sharing with our coach developer group in Canada some of the facilitation skills I am trying to develop.

 

 

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