Switching Questions

This post is part of my 100-question challenge, where I review work from researchers, coaches and counselors to identify questions that support participants to reflect and find solutions to their problems. Learn more about this challenge here. These are questions 55-60.

Marilee Adams, in her book “Change your questions, change your life: 12 powerful tools for leadership, coaching, and life,” advocates for the power of questions to facilitate change. Her most basic argument is that questions can change thinking; it is only through better questions that we can find better answers. She quotes Albert Einstein (p. 27):

We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” 

She argues that there is a choice we make moment by moment a judger and a leaners mindset. A judger mindset is focused on blame, automatic reactions, and win-lose relating. On the other hand, a learner mindset is a mindset of solution-focused, thoughtful choices, and win-win relating.

She illustrates this choice in a choice map. Of most interest to researchers concerned with supporting participants, good questions can help move people from a judging mindset into a learning mindset. These switching questions may allow participants to consider solutions to their problems and support a learning and thoughtful mindset.

I found the following switching questions particularly helpful:

  1. What assumptions are you making?
  2. How else can you think about this?
  3. What are your choices?
  4. What actions make the most sense?
  5. What can you learn?
  6. What can you do to make the best of this time?

I also found the idea of switching from a judging to a learning mindset to be a good reminder for interviewers. As we listen to participants’ experiences, it is worthwhile remembering to adopt a mindset of learning and curiosity as opposed to judgement. Rather than quickly reacting with solutions or judgements about participants’ challenges, adopting a learning attitude may help us  learn from them and support them in making sense of their experiences in new ways.

Consider your last interview: were you in a learner or judger mindset?