Design Process for Insightful Questions and Reflective Listening

Frame questions that provoke reflection and insight into work and performance, and generate knowledge and skill.

The Big Picture

At the heart of action learning is making the time to reflect. At the heart of reflection is great questions. Once learning goals are anchored in the context of workplace performance, it follows that the process for eliciting reflection out to likewise be placed in the context of the continuum of Strategy > Goals > Performance > Results.

Design Process for Insightful Questions and Reflective Listening

Great questions have three attributes: they are personal, ambiguous, and anxiety provoking.

Questions are Personal

Questions that lead to insight are personal. This does not mean personally invasive or breaching privacy. It means that the question is posed in such manner that the person responding is expected to reply in a very personal manner, reflecting on their own personal experience and thinking. Personal questions reduce the frequency of abstract, theoretical answers, which reduce reflection.

Question are Ambiguous

Questions that lead to insight are ambiguous. This means that the answer to the question is not immediately obvious, and the person responding has to take time to make non-obvious connections, and move outside their habitual way of interpreting the world around them.

Questions are Anxiety Provoking

Questions that lead to insight are anxiety provoking. This does not mean that the questions put people in harm's way. It means that, when faced with questions that are personal and ambiguous, a level of anxiety ( as a response to the sudden unknown) becomes an influence in how the person thinks their way through the questions.

 

Taken together, questions that are personal, ambiguous, and anxiety provoking generate uncommon thinking, and create the climate for making the time to reflect. It is the process of making time to reflect that leads to learning relevant to the workplace, and to incorporating such learning across multiple aspects of work in the workplace.