How to ask Questions

One of the key things you do with a client would be to ask questions. To break down what a process facilitator does altogether, this is pretty much it:

- Notice what the client is saying
- Notice what the client is doing
- Make decisions on what approach to take
- Ask questions
- Tell the client to do something
- Do something yourself

If you don't know what else to do, then asking questions is about the safest action you can take. And it often is, anyway, even if you do have other options. Asking questions is one of our key processing tools. Any question is better than no question.

There are several different purposes to asking questions:

1. To bring up and activate new material that gives us something to work on.
2. For the facilitator to identify what we are dealing with so that she can take the appropriate action.
3. In order to get the client to change in regards to the subject we are working on.

These are quite distinct from each other and usually a question would only serve one purpose at a time. At any rate, it is a very good idea for the facilitator to know exactly why she is asking a question; what she is trying to accomplish. Still, any question is better than not doing anything at all. But the work is a lot more effective if the facilitator knows why she is asking what she is asking.

The first type of questions are used to find an overall area to deal with. They are used if we are starting from scratch and the client hasn't already offered something that is appropriate to work on. For example, whatever the facilitator says at the beginning of a session is likely to fall in that category:

"How are you?"
"How was your week?"
"Do you have anything you would like to work on today?"
"What would you like to change in your life?"

A process facilitator will not ask any questions that are just social and polite in a session. Questions are asked for a reason. So, if you ask "How are you doing?", it is not to get answers like "Fine, thank you". It is to get answers like "WWell, better than last week, but I had a fight with my husband yesterday". Ask the questions with the intention of getting material.

The questions in the first category do not have to be direct questions asking for the person's condition. They can be pretty much any question. The key is that something is being brought up that needs to change. If the client is doing well in life we will have to be more clever to bring something up. We might use more general questions that hit an area in a way the client hadn't expected. For example:

"What do you think a person really is?"
"Who could communicate?"
"Is there anything that should never change?"
"Where do you find some space?"

Many of our module processes fall in that category. We get the client to look at a somewhat unusual question in the expectation that something comes up that we can work on. We don't really know what will come up; anything will do.

The second type of question is when something is active, but we don't really know enough about it to know what to do. We will ask questions to narrow in the target. This is not particularly done because the question itself will help the client. It is done for the facilitator to get enough information so that she can decide what course of action to take. That can often be quite therapeutical for the client, to clarify what she wants, but that is not the main concern of the facilitator. The whole issue might be resolved simply by identifying what it is. Or, the facilitator might simply get enough data to know what to do about it.

Dialoguing is basically this second type of questioning. The facilitator and client are working together to find out what it is we have on our hands. It is a convergent process. We are staying on the same subject, trying to get closer and closer to what it is.

Examples of questions

"Does that happen often?"
"Is that something you feel, something you see, or something you hear?"
"What does that have to do with you?"
"Who was there?"
"What happened?"

The third type of questions are more directly intended to make the client change. That is when we have a fairly good idea of what we are working on and we are processing it. The object is now to free up the client's thinking and emotions on the subject, to get her to overcome the limitations, to be more aware, to see things in new ways, to develop some new resources.

One well-placed question of this category can change a person's life. However, you are not trying to construct the perfect question. You simply ask any questions you can think of that would free up the area. That is not the only thing you can do of course, there are many other techniques that don't necessarily consist of questions.

The questions you ask might be to free up stuck flows, to reframe the meaning of the issue so that the limitations drop away, or to provide new viewpoints.

If the client is somewhat stuck on something that has to happen or has to not happen, you can explore the different flows and boundaries of it. Let's say she insists that she never will do "X". One of the most effective sets of questions to ask would be:

"What would happen if you did X?"
"What would happen if you didn't X?"
"What would not happen if you did X?"
"What would not happen if you didn't X?"

That sort of brings out the point that there is a benefit in anything. No matter what action you discuss, there will be advantages of doing it and advantages of not doing it. We would like to transform the fixedness into flexibility.

Reframing is when the meaning of an idea changes to be less limited. You put another frame around it so that it no longer is a problem. That is usually done either by changing the context of the idea or the content. This is an example of a context reframe:

C: "I always have to check five times if everything is allright, and all the doors are closed. It drives my wife crazy."
F: "Where would it be OK to do that?"
C: "Oh, if I were a flight engineer."

Sometimes a person has a problem flagged as being a completely negative thing and therefore they feel limited. But often their behavior would be perfectly appropriate in another context. Making them realize that, can be quite therapeutical. If done well, they can then transfer their behavior from where it is not appropriate, to where it is. They can get a new outlet for their desires.

A content reframe is where you make an idea or a behavior mean something else. What is particularly useful here, is to find positive intentions in everything. Like this:

C: "My wife always yells at me when I come home late."
F: "Oh, so she really cares about you then?"
C: "Eh .. I didn't think of it like that."

He had her behavior labeled as something bad. Changing his mind to seeing it as his wife really cares about him and wants to be with him is probably more useful to him.

Reframes don't have to be questions, they can be just statements. However, the advantage of doing them as questions is that it is more likely that you won't judge anything for the client. These are just ideas you are offering up, "How about seeing it like this: ____?" You are not telling him what to do. If you are in good rapport with the client you can get away with statements as long as you are sure they express his own sentiments.

Simply offering different viewpoints in the form of questions can be very useful:

"How would that look seen from a neutral viewpoint?"
"If you had all the self-confidence and courage that you need, how would that have happened differently?"
"What is there to learn from all of this?"

Using questions is basically a clever trick on our part. The pretense of a question is that you are asking to get an answer. And sometimes we do need answers. However, the most important aspect of a question is what it makes happen.

A question is never neutral. There is always some pre-suppositions implied in the question, and there is always something happening on multiple levels when a question is asked and answered.

If I ask:

"What did he do to you?"

it is implied in my question that "He" did something TO the client, i.e. the client was effect of a certain action caused by this other person. We are actually pushing that version of events on the client by giving her the question. So, we better push something that is useful to her. For example, usually it is better to make her cause than effect. This question might be better:

"How did you get into that situation?"

That makes the client the active part.

A process facilitator who thinks that she is asking perfectly neutral questions is more dangerous than one who knows that any question, statement and action the facilitator does will influence the client somewhat. It is fine to strive towards being as neutral as possible, but don't ever believe that you aren't influencing the client.

The most effective approach really is to imply the reality in your questions that the client would be best served by moving towards. And that is not your personal judgment on the matter. It is not based on any kind of morals. It is not any theory from a book. It is the natural path of increased flexibility and freedom for the client. The only things you ought to insist on is stuff like wholeness, positiveness, and cause. It is always safe to imply that things will get better, the client will get to be more whole, and more aware of being cause.

"What are you going to do after you have changed?"
"What is the positive intention in that?"
"Is there a viewpoint from which you created that for yourself?"

Skillful use of questions is what will get you most of your results as a process facilitator. A few well-placed questions can accomplish what many hours of mechanical work otherwise would.

It would be nice if you can get great results, wouldn't it?


- Practice doing dialoguing with another person.

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