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How do you design questions that kickstart quality discussion?

We find change through using questions, so the use of good questions is one of the most powerful tools at a Host’s disposal to ensure quality discussion and greater interpersonal connection. Teylus include recommended questions, but as a Host becomes more experienced, probing further with their own questions will become a natural and helpful step.

Likewise, if a Teylu doesn’t feel like it’s working very well, the first place a Host should look to is the questions; bad questions are often the culprit.

Questions loosely come in one of two forms: closed and open.

Closed questions effectively only have one answer, making quality discussion virtually impossible. eg. “Who fired the Executive?” or “yes and no” answers.

Open ones allow discussion and variation, eg: “How can we improve the way we let people go?”

Open questions are what Teylus are built around because we want to foster good discussions.

Good Question Design

Personal

A deeper connection with the people and matters at hand is likely to occur if we can personalise the issue(s) for people and connect it to something they’re interested in.

Application

Being able to personally apply the questions will make the most difference to the effectiveness of the Teylu; otherwise, it becomes little more than an exchange of opinions. Application questions bring it back to concrete practice. They also give the Host an opportunity to create a link between each Teylu meeting, e.g.  “How were you able to apply the conversation from last time?”

Edge

If something matters to us, we are likely to feel alert when people talk about it; regardless of whether they are in support or opposition. Embrace the potential for discomfort or excitement that can be generated through a question.

Emotion

Drawing emotion into the question and/or the response engages people on a variety of levels and helps to personalise it.

Simplicity

Straightforward words that can be understood, not just by insiders, ensures anyone can join the dialogue and removes the risk having people pretend they understand.

Hope

Avoid building from a negative premise, such as scarcity, fear or pain. Choose to frame the question in such a way that it points to something positive and future-focused.

Ownership

Orientate away from blame or allocating responsibility elsewhere. We cannot control others, so phrase the question to promote the idea of taking personal ownership.

Bad Question Design

Here are some examples of bad question design.

Multiple questions

Ones with more than one question, but asked as if it seeks one answer. E.g. “How have you fallen short and why was it difficult not to?”

Guessing questions

Ones that require a complete guess at an answer, or heavy assumptions; this often shows up if we are talking about other people.

Absentee questions

Ones that focus on people either not in the room or not formally represented. Whilst this is a cultural norm of the status quo, it is at best unhelpful and at worst destructive.

Exam questions

Ones where the recipient of the question is being tested as if they were at school. This isn’t enjoyable and adds little to the group’s collective wisdom.

Poorly understood questions

Ones where only a few (or none) understand what is being asked; whether it’s through language, terminology, subject or it simply doesn't say what it means.

A Framework for Exploration

One simple framework to consider how to explore a topic or issue is to consider:

Observation - “What do you see happening…”

Interpretation - “What do you imagine is the meaning of…”

Application - “How is this relevant in your own life…”

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  1. John Featherby

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