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Facilitative Questions are NOT open questions

Submitted by on Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Sitting and listening to NPR Saturday afternoon, I heard someone say, “You need to ask OPEN/FACILITATIVE QUESTIONS.” For the 20,000 people who have studied with me and spent weeks learning how to formulate Facilitative Questions, and for the thousands who have purchased my latest book Dirty Little Secrets that has part of a chapter on this new form of question, you will be surprised that anyone would assume open questions and Facilitative Questions were remotely similar.

I suppose the good news is that, like the other terms (‘decision facilitation’ and Buying Facilitation™) I coined over the past 20 years, my thinking is being accepted into the mainstream. But the bad news, what I was warned about but didn’t think would happen to me, is that folks are interpreting the terms in any way they want, regardless of the real definitions.

I’d like to take this opportunity to define the term/concept/skill.

In Dirty Little Secrets I define Facilitative Questions as: “a unique type of question that…help people recognize all of the internal criteria they’ll need to include and address before making a decision. They are unlike conventional questions in that they do not gather information and are not focused on understanding need or placing a solution. Instead they are unbiased, systems based….Each Facilitative Question demands some action. The gleaned data is for the decision maker’s edification.” The content from these questions actually teach the questionee how to make a new decision based on their own internal values.

In addition:

1. Facilitative Questions are NOT open questions. Open questions gather data – pull information out from someone who has already made a decision on this topic and is sharing their choices with the questioner. Open questions are very biased as per the needs of the questioner. In sales, sellers typically ask open questions so they can determine ‘need’ or understand where the ‘pain’ is so they can better position their product.

2. Facilitative Questions are systems based, and not reliant on content. They follow the sequence of how decisions are made (generically) and lead the questionee through their systemic (and usually unconscious)  decision issues that need to be managed before any change can happen.

3. Facilitative Questions do not pull data and are not based on any curiousity of the questioner. Their intent is to lead the questionee through their unconscious decision issues that need to be addressed and recognized  in order to not disrupt the status quo.

4. Facilitative Questions yield very different responses than conventional questions which pull data from decisions already made. Facilitative Questions lead the listener through decision making channels toward a new resolution or a reweighting of values.

5. Posing/formulating Facilitative Questions takes some thinking in that they must help the questionee figure out all of the elements included in their status quo and to notice what’s missing so they can discover excellence. Facilitative Questions actually teach the questionee how to think and recognize how and why they need to change.

An open question would be: “Why do you wear your hair like that?” The question is gathering data about a decision the questionee has already made and understands.

A Facilitative Question would be: “How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?” The question leads the quesionee through past haircuts, current lifestyle choices, time, obligations, current hairdressers/stylists, and any biases the questionee might have about his/her appearance. It actually uses brain function to pull various decision points out of the unconscious brain so they become conscious and the  questionee can get a good look at choices s/he may not have recognized.

These questions can be used in:

  • marketing, to make an ad interactive; example: How would you know when it was time to buy a luxury car?
  • coaching, to help the coachee decide how to change within their unique value structure; example: what would you need to know or believe differently in order to be willing to add a new habit to your daily tooth care?
  • change management/implementation, to help folks buy-in to proposed change and become part of the solution; example: What would you all need to shift in order to be willing to bring in this new initiative in a way that would maintain your agreed-upon work-life values?
  • sales, to help buyers figure out the internal decision issues they must address so that all people, relationships, policies, rules, etc. get addressed and bought-in to any proposed solution prior to deciding on a solution or vendor. example: How would you and your decision team know when it was time to add another resource to what you are currently doing?

I hope this helps. In my new book Dirty Little Secrets you can read more about them.


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