“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think…true knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing. Socrates
Have you ever experienced the Socratic way of learning–and self-discovery? You begin by asking your inner-self questions to challenge your present thinking and behaving. This produces more self-awareness and understanding of who you are and what you want to become in living a life of making difference. It also can support your teaching and presentation style by challenging learners to think and discover questions that can then make your communication or presentation more relevant to their life.
This method of Socratic questioning illuminates the importance of questioning in self-awareness and clear thinking. Socrates stated that questioning was the only defensible form of teaching. It illuminates the difference between systematic and fragmented thinking. It teaches us to dig beneath the surface of our ideas and not just memorize stuff for a presentation or interpersonal communication. It teaches us the value of developing questioning minds to cultivate deep learning. The Art of Socratic questioning is intimately connected with learning because questioning is important to the excellence of thought.
The word “Socratic” adds to the art of questioning because it signals depth and interest in assessing the truth or information about our self and others in the situations they are confronting. Many people are afraid that by asking questions they will look weak, ignorant, or unsure. They like to give the impression that they are decisive and in command of the relevant issues. They fear that asking questions might introduce uncertainty or show them as uninformed or incompetent. They like being perceived as the expert. In fact, asking questions is a sign of strength and intelligence – not a sign of weakness or uncertainty. Great leaders constantly ask questions of themselves and many different people to show they are aware of different points of view and that they do not have all the answers. Some people are in such a hurry to get things done that they do not stop to ask questions because it might slow them down. They risk rushing headlong into making poor decisions and then taking the wrong actions in complex situations.
As politicians, peers, friends, family members, colleagues, or managers how do we avoid making these split second decisions? One technique is to stop and check assumptions, weigh the alternatives and potential consequences by first asking questions. Start with very basic, broad questions then move to more specific areas to clarify your understanding. Open questions are excellent – they give the other people a chance to weigh-in and open up the discussion, so as to arrive at a better decision. Examples, of open questions are: • What obstacles keep the government from bailing out home owners? • What are the factors that caused our recent economic melt down? • How can we reduce a further melt down of the economy? • Where does an individual or bank’s authority and responsibility end and government authority through regulation begin to override risky individual choices• Tell me more about your personal experiences in securing a business loan? Questions for a meaningful conversation need not be scripted because as we actively listen and tune-in to responses we can spontaneously formulate more in-depth or probing questions. Be patient in your responses and never interrupt the speaker. The desire to state our ideas, insights, points of view and wisdom is hard to resist. The method of asking questions to deepen our understanding and provides more clarity of the issues before identifying the root issue in making critical decisions and taking action.
Asking questions is a very effective method to build trust and shows your interest in getting other people’s viewpoint of the problem and finding the best alternative for constructive action. A word of caution-questions maybe be perceived as an interrogation and threatening rather than as a friendly way to connect unless you show interest in the responses. Try to pose each question in a calm way so that the learning climate is experienced as positive by all those involved in the discussion. Be especially cognizant of your non-verbal symbols such as, finger pointing or jab your index finger like the “critical parent”. Try to speak and use positive and welcoming hand jesters, such as open palms.
Try to practice asking more opened questions in conversations will make a person feel understood and indicate that you care what they have to say. Instead of telling someone what you think or immediately providing advise – ask them a question and you will be perceived as caring, open, and engaging person.
Questions help us to teach as well as to learn. If you are open too new thinking and renewal the lesson’s life offers will enhance your ability to develop and grow your decision-making processes and effectiveness. If it is obvious that asking questions is such a powerful way of learning why do we stop and asking questions? For some people the reason is that they think that they have learned all there is to know on a subject–the “know-it-all style or they see it as a WAY OF SUCCEEDING STATUS TO OTHERS THUS TAKING AWAY THEIR INFLUENCE OR CONTROL OF THE SITUATION. Others like to hear themselves talk or thinking leading is dominating the conversation. Some people become bored, lazy or worn down by fighting the same battles for change year in and year out. They want to maintain their comfort level by holding onto old and tried and true “mental maps”, assumptions and solution or ideas which they believe are correct and unchanging. For example, cutting taxes leads to a strong economy. They try old solutions that might or might not fit the new circumstances.This approach leads them to be stuck in the past. And many times they end up failing by trying to maintain the status quo and their comfort level.
Self-Coaching Challenge: This week spend time with your team in reviewing the importance of questioning and practicing it when discussing an important issue. Ask yourself about how this changed the discussion? What went differently? Did asking questions improve your team’s collaborative behavior? Was the outcome of the decision-making process better or about the same before you institutes and rewarded more questioning? Remember–Being able to ask yourself or your team tough questions and then to forge an answer everyone can live with increases self-awareness, personal growth and team effectiveness.