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Thursday, May 21, 2015


It happens frequently in my service as a mentor to school leaders.  They seek my help in dealing with a sticky situation, hoping that I may have a quick solution or a magic elixir.  As much as I would love to play the role of Merlin, I simply haven't developed those skills (yet).

But, my advice (and my modeling) to these help seekers always starts this way:  
Begin by asking questions.  And, ask those questions from a truly curious perspective.

Some dos of asking questions:

  • Start with question stems like "What..." and "How..."
  • Be fully present and attentive when asking. Ask, look, pause, listen.
  • Use words or phrases you hear in their responses in your next questions.
  • Counter feelings of anger/aggression with increased curiosity and openness.
  • Nest all questions in a mindset of continuous improvement.
  • Always thank others for helping you get a better grasp of the issue through their time, their input, and their thinking (whether you like what you heard from them or not).

Some don'ts of asking questions:

  • Don't interrogate; gently inquire.
  • Don't use "Why..." as the question stem.  (It sounds and feels judgmental.)
  • Don't immediately jump to conclusions, start issuing directives, or make up new rules.
  • Avoid divining solutions until you've asked several questions of several people.

Some benefits of asking questions:

  • The better questioner you become, the better listener you'll become.
  • Relational capital is directly proportional to curiosity prowess.
  • Problems tend to house their own solutions, but only when we reflectively and collaboratively begin to dissect them.  Questions are the lab tools of dissection.
  • Others almost always feel more valued when (honestly) asked for feedback, input, perspective, ideas, thinking. 
  • Getting smarter is a by product of asking good questions.

Some sample questions:

  • What do I need to know before tackling this problem?
  • Who else should I talk to that can help me gain deeper insight into this issue?
  • How might we proceed without creating additional burdens on others?
  • What might I hear from Bob/Betty/So&So when I ask about this?
  • What should I be asking that I haven't yet?
  • What questions do you have for me?

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