The Power of Questions
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in
your heart and
try to love the questions themselves...
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it,
live along some distant day into the answer."
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
experts like Peter Senge and others suggest that dialogue involves
inquiry and advocacy. In the inquiry dimension of dialogue,
we seek to understand what is true for others or real for the group.
In the advocacy dimension, we offer our own perspective as a contribution
to the "group soup." (Note that this kind of advocacy
is a far cry from asserting our truth as The Truth.)
Some therapists and social
change activists take inquiry further. They have noticed that
active inquiry -- asking good questions and really listening well,
or convening people to explore together powerful questions that
have heart and meaning to them all -- can have a transformative
effect. The transformative impact comes not from leaders knowing
what to tell people, but from listeners or convenors knowing what
to ask and creating an open-ended, vibrant space to explore in.
Active inquiry involves shared exploration towards shared understanding,
and so exemplifies co-intelligent
dialogue. It requires the heartfelt participation of all parties.
It is people truly listening to people truly speaking.
In active inquiry, questions play a different role than they usually
do. We aren't so interested in answers -- and we definitely aren't
interested in The Right Answer. The main point is that well-crafted
questions elicit new awareness and feelings of empowerment. Any
answers that emerge are icing on the cake. Often a powerful question
changes the questioner, as well.
Below are some excellent resources on powerful and generative questions:
- Strategic Questioning
- Fran Peavey's brilliant description of questions that generate
change -- even when they aren't answered
Inquiry - This method specialize in questions that evoke positive
- Quaker Queries
- Quakers create and carry these questions-for-reflection into
their silent meetings for worship, their business meetings, and
their lives. The spirit of this practice also inspires the Quaker
innovation of "Clearness
Committees" in which Friends help a person deal with
a personal challenge by asking him or her generative questions.
- The World Cafe
- The excellent bookThe
World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That
by Juanita Brown with David Isaacs and the World Café
Community -- read Tom Atlee's review of it here
-- has a lot about what makes a powerful question, with over a
hundred examples. To get a taste, here's a
page of world cafe questions about the world cafe process
and the life-principles it is based on.
- Self-Awareness and Exploratory
Self-Questioning (pdf)- by Dennis Rivers (Chapter 8 of The
Geometry of Dialogue) - Exploratory questions from many fields
of conscious inquiry, and their underlying logic and utility.
- Another set of personal reflection questions is here,
and some personal empowerment "powerful questions" are
- The Dynamics of Emergence
(pdf) - Peggy Holman's description of the role of questions in
- Open Question
Circles - What would make __ more wonderful for you -- and
what would that do for your personally?
Cafe - Here the questions are designed to surface unexamined
assumptions, embedded concepts and values, and to maintain a spirit
of intellectual and moral challenge. Bears some resemblance to
with a Difference - distinguishes six types of questions useful
in corporate (and other) coaching
- Organic Inquiry
- Feminist research methodology theory that includes non-linear,
transformational varieties of research and knowledge
SAMPLE QUESTIONS ABOUT SOCIAL ISSUES AND CRISES
reflection about the 911 attacks - written the day after the
our neighbors" Programs - also about 911
Some of the Big
Questions about Y2K and Life - some of which may be applicable
to potential new crises
Moving beyond answers
to live the questions
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