stock-photo-question-mark-on-green-black-1383284Questions are a key element to draw information out of students – a crucial way to gather feedback. But so many times instructors ask the wrong questions.

What are the right questions? Sometimes I think the right question is the one for that specific moment in time – it’s right because, quite simply it works. Even if it’s a closed question – often considered limiting – or a vague question – maybe that was the right type of question for the right time. It’s all about your intention, and what you hope to get out of the person you’re “interrogating.”

This reminds me of a communication technique I learned in a class many years ago but has stuck with me because it struck me as so relevant and important – it’s called perception checking. And essentially it’s asking a question without asking a question – or as I sometimes think of it – asking a sideways question. There is no question mark grammatically required. This technique is about confirming you understand what has been said – clarifying. It’s often led with “So what I’m hearing you say is…” And once you have filled in the blank with your interpretation, you pass the baton back to the other person who is then free to correct you, or agree with you, or elaborate on the original point that you were trying to understand.

I like this technique because it’s so open ended, and creates a non-defensive, non-violent conversation. People do not feel like they are being interrogated and they see the feedback as encouragement to continue speaking. This might be more appropriate for 1-1 conversations, but I’ve seen it work effectively in group settings or meetings, as a way to reach consensus in a discussion.


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