Guest Post by Mike Pegg
There are many ways to encourage people. One approach is to ask positive questions that help people to find answers they personally believe in. People can then translate their findings into action to achieve success.
Good mentors, for example, recognize that the kinds of questions they ask can affect how people use their energy. They can ask questions that help people to build on their strengths and find solutions. Or they can ask questions that cause more problems.
Bernard J. Mohr and Jane Magruder Watkins illustrate the differing approaches to asking questions in their article The Essentials Of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures. Click “HERE” to read!
To see how we might start to frame questions, let’s suppose a team’s performances has fluctuated for a while and its members are now experiencing conflict and low productivity.
Which of the following sets of questions is likely to give us information that will generate forward momentum?
What’s wrong with the people in this group? Why isn’t this team doing better? What’s causing this conflict and who is responsible?
Think of a time in your history as a team when performance was high and you felt engaged and valued. Tell me a story about that time. What were you and the others doing?
What external/organisational factors were present that supported these moments? How might this team function if we expand the conditions that led to past successes?
Norman Cousins, the American writer, said that: “Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.” This rule holds true when asking questions. The questions we ask can lead to certain consequences.
My own experience of inviting people to explore certain kinds of questions was influenced by the mentors I met during the 1960s and early 70s.
These mentors included Alec Dickson, who founded Community Service Volunteers, George Lyward, who ran a therapeutic community called Finchden Manor, and David Wills, a pioneer in childcare.
They believed that every person had something to give to the world. They encouraged me to watch a person in action and ask the following questions:
What are the person’s strengths? When do they come alive? What are they doing right then? How can they do more of these things in the future? What can this person give to other people? How can they pass on their knowledge and help other people to succeed?
Good mentors pass on knowledge in ways that people can accept and use to achieve success. At the same time, however, they help people to develop their own resources.
Such mentors often follow the organic approach to working with people. This is based on the following beliefs:
The Organic Approach to encouraging people believes that:
- People already have the seeds of development within them.
- People already have strengths and successful patterns they can develop.
- People can develop by being helped to build on these strengths and successful patterns – plus add other skills on the way to achieving success.
Many people have highlighted the importance of asking certain questions. Good problem solvers, for example, spend a long time clarifying the real results to achieve. They clarify the What and the Why before moving on to the How.
Creative people also retain their sense of curiosity throughout their lives. Sylvia Earle, the marine biologist and explorer, wrote:
“The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity. ‘Who, what, where, why and how!’
“They never stop asking questions, and I never stop asking questions, just like a five year old.”
One way to help people to develop their inner resources is to ask them positive questions. As mentioned earlier, there are many themes you can explore to help people to build on their strengths and achieve their goals.
Here are some of the questions that I have used to help people, teams and organisations to develop. The aim has been to encourage people to find and follow answers they believe in. You will, of course, have your own set of questions.
Positive Questions to Ask People as Individuals:
Let’s start by focusing on your strengths:
- What are the deeply satisfying activities in which you deliver “As” rather than “Bs” or “Cs?” What are the activities that give you positive energy? When are you in your element – at ease and yet able to excel?
- What are the situations in which you see the destination quickly? When do you go “A, B____ and then leap to Z____?
- Where do you have the equivalent of a photographic memory? Where do you have natural self-discipline? What are the specific activities in which you score highly on drive, detail and delivery?
- Where do you see patterns quickly? Where do you have good personal radar – you seem to know what will happen before it happens? When do you make complicated things appear simple? What are the activities in which you always do the basics and then add the brilliance?
Let’s move on to how you do satisfying work:
- What is your successful style of working? Looking back, what for you have been two or three satisfying projects – in the broadest sense of the word – that you have done in your life? What made each of these projects satisfying?
- Looking at these examples, can you see any recurring patterns? Bearing in mind these answers what do you believe may be your successful style of working? How can you continue to follow these principles – plus maybe add some other skills in the future?
- Who are the kinds of people – customers and employers – with whom you work best? What are the characteristics of these people? What are the kinds of challenges they face and what is their picture of success? How can you use your strengths to help them achieve success?
- Bearing in mind your strengths, what are the specific things you can deliver to help people, teams and organizations to succeed? What would be the benefits of delivering these results? How can you position these things in a way that may be attractive to potential customers or employers?
- How can you reach these people in a way that fits your values system? How can you give to these people and help them to succeed? If appropriate, how can you then make clear working contracts with these people? How can you do superb work and help them to achieve success?
- Looking to the future, how can you continue to build on your strengths? How can you find or create stimulating projects that help people, teams or organizations to succeed? How can you do satisfying work that also helps others?
Looking ahead, are there any challenges you would like to explore?
If you wish, we can explore how to find solutions to challenges by focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results.
Looking at the first challenge you want to explore, what are the real results you want to achiever? What is your picture of success?
Let’s explore the possible routes you can follow to tackle the challenge. Looking ahead, what are the possible choices and the consequences of each option?
Option A is to ….. The pluses are….. The minuses are…..
Option B is to ….. The pluses are….. The minuses are…..
Option C is to ….. The pluses are….. The minuses are…..
Let’s explore some other possible creative solutions. If you wish, we can start by exploring your positive history:
- Looking back, have you ever managed a similar challenge successfully? What did you do right then? What were the principles you followed? How can you follow some of those principles – plus maybe add other skills to tackle the present challenge?
- Looking at the real results you want to achieve, are there any other possible creative solutions?
Let’s move on to your action plan:
- What is the route – or the combination of routes you want to follow to achieve the results?
- How can you follow this route? What are the three key things you can do to give yourself the greatest chance of success? How can you get some early wins and encourage yourself on the journey? How can you do your best to achieve the picture of success?
Positive Questions To Ask People Who Work in Teams that Can Lead to Positive Results:
Let’s start by focusing on the team’s strengths:
- What the team’s strengths? What are the specific activities in which it delivers “As” rather than “Bs” or “Cs?” How can it do more of these things in the future?
- Looking back, when have people on the team worked together brilliantly in the past? They may have been doing a project, providing great service to a customer, tacking a specific challenge or whatever.
- What did people do right then to work brilliantly? What were the principles they followed? How can the team follow similar principles – plus maybe add other skills – to perform brilliantly in the future?
- Who are the kinds of customers with whom the team works best? What are challenges these customers face? How can the team use its strengths to help these customers achieve success?
Let’s move on to the team’s Scorecard and Stimulating Projects
- Every team is asked to deliver a particular Scorecard for its organization. These are the mandatory tings that must be done. It can also be important for people to play to their strengths and do other Stimulating Projects that can benefit the organization.
- How can the team deliver the Scorecard? How can it get some early wins? How can it build good relationships with its key stakeholders? How can it proactively keep people informed about its progress toward the goals?
- How can people on the team play to their strengths and on top of the Scorecard also do Stimulating Projects? How can they show that doing these projects will bring benefits to the organization? How can they get some quick successes and then deliver the Stimulating Projects?
Let’s move on to the team’s strategies for achieving its picture of success:
- What are the real results the team wants to achieve? What is the team’s picture of success? What are the actual words you would like to hear each of the key stakeholders saying about the team’s work? What will be happening that will show the team has achieved its picture of success?
- What are the key strategies the team can follow to give itself the greatest chance of success? How can the team implement these strategies successfully? How can the tea coordinate people’s strengths to deliver the goals? How can it make sure that any remaining practical tasks get done?
- How can people do superb work? How can they encourage each other on the journey? How can they find creative solutions to challenges? How can they do their best to reach the goals? How can they then, if appropriate, add that touch of class?
Jack Grossman highlighted the importance of asking positive questions in his book Managing With Wisdom. He explained: “To ensure that you consistently ask the right questions in the right way, develop the habit of asking yourself:
What’s the purpose of my question? What other purposes do I have in asking this question?
If your responses indicate that your purposes are positive, you are on the right course. Why? Because positive motives will prompt you to ask questions that lead you to knowledge, insights and solutions to problems.
Negative motives, however, such as wanting to making people feel bad or wanting to put people on the defensive, will cause you to ask inappropriate questions in inappropriate ways. Here are some positive motives for asking questions.
I sincerely care … I need the information … I want to know so I can understand … I’m genuinely interested … I want your help …I want to stimulate you to think … I want to stimulate a discussion.
Although asking the right questions in the right way reflects your wisdom, so does not asking questions that might expose a person’s weaknesses, cause a person discomfort or trigger a defensive reaction.
Imagine that you want to use elements of this approach with a person or a group of people. You may want to do this when facilitating a mentoring session, workshop or other event.
If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to start by describing the specific situation in which you may want to help a person or a group to develop. It then invites you to do the following things.
- Describe the positive results the person or group may want to achieve.
- Describe the positive questions you can ask to help them to find ways to achieve the positive results.
- Describe the specific things you can do to help them to build on their answers and make action plans to achieve the positive results.