100-Questions List

Here the list of questions so far!

Solution-Focused Interviewing

  1. What would you like to change about this?
  2. What would be helpful for us to talk about now?
  3. What difference will reaching this goal make in your life?
  4. How important is this goal to you? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents minimum importance, and 10 represents great importance, what number would you assign this goal? How did you get to that number?
  5. The exception to the problem: Tell me about a time when the problem did not happen? What was different then? What did you do or think differently?
  6. Preferred future: these questions explore how things will be different when the problem is solved. When this issue is resolved, how will your situation be better for you? Suppose tonight, when you went to sleep, a miracle happens, and this problem is solved. When you wake up tomorrow morning, what would be different? How would you be different?
  7. Coping questions: how have you managed to cope with this problem as long as you have? What have you done to keep this situation from getting worst?

Clean Language Questions

  1. (And) what kind of X (is that X)?
  2. (And) is there anything else about X?
  3. (And) where is X?  or (And) whereabouts is X?
  4. (And) that’s X like what?
  5. (And) is there a relationship between X and Y?
  6. (And) when X, what happens to Y?
  7. (And) then what happens? Or (And) what happens next?
  8.  (And) what happens just before X?
  9. (And) where could X come from?
  10. (And) what would X like to have happen?
  11. (And) what needs to happen for X?
  12. (And) can X (happen)?

Pre-Interview Questions

  1. Please briefly tell me about yourself
  2. In regard to (topic of the study), what is a priority for you right now?
  3. In the short term, what objectives do you most want to work on or pay attention to?
  4. What major changes have taken place in your life in the last six months that have impacted your experience of (topic of the study)?
  5. The problems or challenges I most want to overcome right now are…
  6. What I most would like to discuss in our meeting is…

The Power of Six

  1. What do you know (about that)? 
  2. And what else do you know about that? (5 times)
  3. And NOW what do you know about that?

Problem-Remedy-Outcome

When presented with a problem, a question to move towards an outcome is:

  1. And when [problem] what would you like to have happen? For example, “And when you can’t get a job in your field, what would you like to have happen?”

When presented with a remedy, a good question is:

  1. And when [remedy], then what happens? For example, “And when you stop wasting your time with menial work, then what happens?”

SMART Goals

Specific: the goal is clear

  1. What exactly do you want to accomplish?
  2. What will it look like when you reach your objectives?

Measurable: there is a way to establish progress

  1. How can you quantify this goal, so we will know when you have reached it?
  2. How could you state this objective, so your progress towards it is measurable?

Attainable: it is dependent only on the participant and can be achieved

  1. Is this goal within your capability?
  2. Are there any barriers or circumstances that preclude reaching this goal?
  3. Does this goal depend on anyone else’s choices? How can we reword it, so it depends only on you?

Relevant: this goal is a priority

  1. Why is this goal important to you?
  2. On a scale of one to ten, how important is it to you to reach this goal?

Time-specific: there is a clear deadline

  1. By when will you reach this goal?
  2. When will you start?

Integral Theory Quadratic Assessment

Experience: Individual-Interior

  1. What are your strengths?
  2. How would you describe your mood/feelings?
  3. How do you make decisions (for example, do you use logic and reason, or do you trust or gut and heart)?
  4. In general, how satisfied are you with (your life/job/situation)?
  5. In general, how much control do you feel you have over your (life/situation) and how you feel?

Behavior: Individual-Exterior

  1. Please describe your habits/patterns (as it relates to the topic under investigation).

Culture: Collective-Interior

  1. Please describe your relationships with friends, family, and coworkers (as it relates to the topic under investigation)
  2. How do you identify yourself ethnically? How influential is your ethnic culture to you?
  3. What values are most important to you (as it relates to topic)?

Social systems: Collective-Exterior

  1. Describe your current (relevant – work, home) physical environment.
  2. What aspects of your life are stressful to you?
  3. What type of support system do you have?
  4. What is your educational/professional background?

Switching Questions

  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?

Incisive Questions

  1. “What might you be assuming that is stopping you from achieving your goal?”
  2. “Of these assumptions, which do you think is limiting you the most?”
  3. “That is possible/true. But what are you assuming that makes that stop you?”
  4. If you knew + freeing assumption + goal

Probing Questions

  1. What feelings do you have about this?
  2. What are the other players in this situation? How are they involved?
  3. What do you want? What is your objective?
  4. Give me a concrete example of that.
  5. What did you mean when you said X.
  6. What was most significant to you about this situation?
  7. Give me some background: what led to this situation?
  8. What excites you about this?

Moving through Space

  1. And are you in the right space?
  2. And is [goal] in the right space?
  3. And are you at the right height?
  4. Is [goal] at the right height?
  5. And are you facing the right direction?
  6. And is [goal] facing the right direction?
  7. And are you at the right angle?
  8. And is [goal] at the right angle? 
  9. And are you in the right position?
  10. And is [goal] in the right position?
  11. Are you the right amount of distance from [goal]?
  12. And is the goal at the right distance from you?
  13. And what do you know now?
  14. And is there another space that you could go to from that space there?
  15. And what do you know from that space there?
  16. Is there a space that knows about what action you want to take?
  17. What’s the first action that you know that you could do from this space?
  18. How will you do that?
  19. When will you do that?
  20. Is there anything else you would like to do?

Solution-Focused Interviewing

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 1-7.

I just finished reading the book “Solution-Focused Interviewing: Applying Positive Psychology – A manual for practitioners” by Ronald E. Warner. The book is an amazing resource for health practitioners, such as doctors, therapists, and social workers, to empower clients to find solutions to their problems by focusing on their strengths. It is also very useful for researchers seeking to employ more strength-based and solution-focused questions in their research approach.

Like transformative interviews, this approach assumes that participants are experts in their own lives and have strengths and resources to solve their problems. The interviewer’s role is to help the participants become aware of these strengths and resources to be empowered to take action.

A fundamental paradigm shift is to move away from “problem-talk.” This approach rejects the assumption that in order to find a solution, we need to understand the problem better. Instead, it shifts the focus to what is wanted or desired in order to engage in a solution-talk.

Warner proposes a tri-phase model for the solution-building process. The first phase involves establishing rapport with the client/participant, which he calls the empathy phase. This stage involves active listening and reflecting skills with the purpose of developing trust and demonstrating that the participant’s feelings are acknowledged and validated. However, he maintains it is not desirable to further explore or expand on these negative feelings.

A second phase, the goal-setting phase, involves defining a goal – what does the client want to happen. Some helpful questions at this stage that translate well to a research environment may be:

  • What would you like to change about this?
  • What would be helpful for us to talk about now?

As I have learned in my own interviewing, defining a goal is harder than it seems. Warner suggests that a well-formed solution-focused goal has three characteristics:

  • The goal needs to be broken down into small achievable steps
  • Goals need to be expressed in behavioral terms – they need to clearly articulate a doing for the person
  • Goals need to be expressed in positive terms – what is wanted more of, not what is not wanted (I want to increase my fitness as opposed to I want to lose weight)

At this stage, it is also helpful to understand the importance of this goal or desire and how motivated they feel to pursue it. Some useful questions may be:

  • What difference will reaching this goal make in your life?
  • How important is this goal to you? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents minimum importance, and 10 represents great importance, what number would you assign this goal? How did you get to that number?

The third phase of this model, the goal-striving phase, is focused on determining how the goal can be achieved. At this point, the participant begins to consider other ways of approaching their situation that may be more beneficial. Several questions can be helpful here:

  • The exception to the problem: Tell me about a time when the problem did not happen? What was different then? What did you do or think differently?
  • Preferred future: these questions explore how things will be different when the problem is solved. When this issue is resolved, how will your situation be better for you? Suppose tonight, when you went to sleep, a miracle happens, and this problem is solved. When you wake up tomorrow morning, what would be different? How would you be different?
  • Coping questions: how have you managed to cope with this problem as long as you have? What have you done to keep this situation from getting worst?

In a research context, it may be that some problem-talk is necessary to advance the research goals of the study. However, moving beyond the discussion of the problem and engaging in a solution-building conversation is likely to benefit research participants and facilitate the identification of broad solutions.

Warner cautions to the importance of giving participants time to consider these questions. Answering solution-focused questions require reflective thought as we are asking participants to think about their problems in different ways. That means developing comfort with silence and reassuring participants that it is okay to take time to think things through before responding.

I strongly recommend reading the book and keeping it close by for ideas of questions. For now, I have identified seven main types of questions that can help researchers move beyond the problem-talk into a solution-focused mindset.

How motivated are you to implement solution-focused questions in your research?

The power of questions: Introducing the 100-questions challenge

When we are interviewing, we are mostly asking questions. We are also providing verbal and non-verbal feedback and sporadically providing explanations or comments. But the core of a research interview is asking questions. 

However, coming up with good interview questions is deceptively hard. Novice researchers (and even more seasoned ones) sometimes find that a well-intentioned question derails the conversation or realize that the interview did not result in useful data.

Questions are also powerful intervention tools. By asking the right questions, we allow people to consider things in ways they have not thought about. Consider a simple question such as “how are you today?” and its most likely answer: “fine, thanks.” Nobody has learned anything here. However, if the question instead is “What was the most exciting thing that happened to you today?” we are inviting people to consider and think about a positive experience.

Similarly, if you ask people, “what are you doing today?” you may get an answer like “the usual, work, school.” If, however, you ask, “what are you most looking forward to doing today?” you may get a more meaningful answer “well, I started this blog about transformative interviews, and I am looking forward to writing a post about the importance of asking good questions.”

However, coming up with these questions on the spot is not always easy. To help me become better at asking questions, I have created a 100-transformative-questions challenge for myself. My 100-question challenge is to collect a list of 100 tested questions from the helping professions (Coaching, Counselling, Psychology) to help researchers ask more powerful questions. The up to date list of questions is here.

Stay tuned! 

In the meantime, here a question for you: What most excites you about transformative interviews?

What are transformative interviews?

Simply put, a transformative interview is a conversation that helps to transform people’s mental models and, through this process, facilitate action. Let’s break that down a bit.

 A mental model is a picture in our minds about how the world works. These pictures are often incomplete and inaccurate. When we take the time to reflect on these mental models, we can expand our view, add more detail, and make modifications. A transformative conversation gives people the space to do just that.

However, this reflection is not solely for the sake of better thinking; it is a process that helps us find solutions to problems we may be struggling with. 

Transformative interviews are interviews in which the questions we ask help research participants reflect on their situations, change their mental models, and focus on solutions to their problems.

“How is that research?” you may ask. Transformative interviews may not be suitable for all types of research. But often, researchers are concerned with understanding people’s experiences and the challenges they face in hopes of generating knowledge that will contribute to a solution.

Most researchers I know care deeply about something and want to make the world better. However, the research institution (funding agencies, academic journals, publication expectations, etc.) is organized in such a way that we tend to emphasize practical contribution as a by-product of the research. After the study is completed – and preferably published – we communicate the findings to the people who can do something about it. Usually, that is a long time coming. In the meantime, we are sacrificing critical opportunities for intervention and making a difference right now, as we talk to people experiencing the issues we are studying.

Transformative Interviews remedies that problem by simultaneously supporting participants to find solutions to the issues they are facing while collecting data about their experiences. A bonus of this process is that, as we support participants to reflect deeply on their situations, the data we gather is also richer. As we give participants time to reflect on their situations and learn more about it, they share with us their insights in ways that would not be possible through traditional interviewing.

The doing of TI requires a new way of conceiving a research project and also new tools. As I mentioned in an earlier post, academic training often does not include developing the skills to support others through conversation. I will be posting tools and resources I find useful to help those committed to developing those skills.

In the meantime, consider your last interview project: in what ways have your conversation supported participants?

Transformative Journey

I started this project because, after many years of researching the challenges facing immigrants, I felt it was time to contribute to the solution.

Scholars are increasingly concerned with the social impact of research, particularly in applied fields like business or communication. One solution, a solution I subscribe to, is engaged and responsible research. In particular, research that makes an impact throughout the research process, not only after the research is complete and results are communicated.

However, as I started to consider how I could use my interactions with research participants as an intervention, I realized my academic training has not provided me with the tools to support others.

I then started on a journey of transformation myself, learning everything I could about coaching, interviewing, and communicating in supportive ways. I started by undergoing coaching training with Integral Coaching Canada, which provided me with tools to engage in the coaching role. I am following that up with clean language training to further my ability to stay clean and not impose my views on others. I am also reading a lot (that is what sabbaticals are for!) about different coaching and therapeutic traditions.

Fortunately, I am not alone on this journey. My Carleton colleague and dear friend Amrita Hari has joined me in this journey and broaden the scope of my exploration beyond the confines of management into the broader social sciences. We have now completed one project using Transformative Interviews with international students and are midway through another project with immigrant women. We are also doing a systematic literature review on interventional interview techniques.

This blog chronicles our discoveries along the way. It is an opportunity to document our learnings in this practice and engage with others that, like us, are passionate about making a difference through research.