FACILITATIVE QUESTIONS: QUESTIONS THAT FACILITATE CHANGE WITH INTEGRITY
As professionals a big part of our jobs is to influence change. We assume we know the appropriate means to get where we want to be. Certainly we think we know the right questions to get the data we think we need.
But sometimes we miss the unconscious drivers, and the incomplete data we collect as a result skews our outcomes. Or we unwittingly cause resistance even when our solutions are important and well-conceived.
WHAT ARE QUESTIONS AND WHAT DO THEY DO?
I’m aware that there is a lot of hype recently about ‘asking the right questions’. But the questions we use aren’t achieving what we want them to achieve. Here’s why:
1. Questions generally extract information, usually for the benefit of the questioner or to enhance the questioner’s outcome.
2. Conventional, or information-based, questions are biased: biased by the questioner who seeks a response; biased by the responder who either has a ready answer, makes up an answer, declines to answer, or some combination of all.
3. The question itself potentially restricts the responder’s thinking and eliminates viable responses, often overlooking important issues.
Information-based questions are the standard, but they unnecessarily bias outcomes, activities, and data accuracy. What if it were possible to formulate a question that would:
- influence change,
- promote efficient implementations, buy-in, and sales cycles,
- avoid resistance and bias,
- maintain personal integrity,
- avoid the problems we face when unconscious issues rear their ugly heads?
Questions can be a vehicle for true leadership, change and discovery. But not the ones we are accustomed to.
Since I’ve been a teenager I’ve studied the brain for ways to impact our own unconscious choices, difficult to influence because of the elusive nature of the unconscious. I was particularly curious if it were possible for an outsider to help us make good decisions that would maintain our integrity by helping uncover and reweight our unconscious criteria.
In 1988 I read Roger Schank’s The Creative Attitude. The book discusses how the unconscious biases all decisions. I was most interested in his ideas about how our brains store data in memory indices. The idea that inspired me to action remains with me: the only way to get to these hidden bits of memory is through questions. Hhmmm. I found that interesting. Was it possible to use questions to unlock everything in the indices – including the unconscious drivers, the beliefs, the values, the emotions? How could they be used without causing resistance, given the biased nature of questions?
I began experimenting with new forms of questions that would uncover unconscious drivers and make it possible to consider change from the inside out. I finally came up with a model that enables an outsider to facilitate unconscious choices.
[I’m going to walk you through an overview of how I came up with the solution I’ve been teaching in corporations for 25 years. It’s a bit different than you’re used to, so hang with me. And I’m always available to discuss it. At the end of the article I’ve linked to ways you can learn more. For this article, I’m introducing the concepts.]
I recognized two main factors that offer the foundation to thinking of questions and decision making differently: information and systems.
Information: Our current skills usually employ information as the arbiter of change:
– Sellers gather and pitch information;
– coaches, consultants, facilitators and leaders use ‘rational’ ideas (information) as the bedrock of requesting change;
– decision analysts gather, weight, and analyze information to compare choices.
But information-gathering avoids engaging core beliefs; without addressing the gooey, human stuff that is such a vital part of the status quo, success is elusive.
Systems: To understand the difficulty of influencing unconscious choice – necessary for success in any sort of change (buying, change management, decision facilitation, etc.) – we must recognize it as a systems problem: since change involves some sort of insult to our internal and unconscious system/status quo, any change must include buy-in of everything within the system that will touch the final solution or the system will resist. It’s the principle of homeostasis – systems maintain equilibrium, and change without buy-in puts the system out of balance. We are all familiar with the repercussions of what happens when unconscious issues rear their ugly heads during implementations or group decisions.
Eventually I developed a new type of question: Facilitative Questions clarify and capture the appropriate, most relevant decision criteria (sometimes unconscious) from a responder’s memory indices and make their appropriate systemic drivers conscious. These questions enable people to illuminate their own criterial issues necessary to include in new choices for systems congruency.
- open new choices and unlock the means to fix whatever issues stand between the responder and his own excellence;
- construct new decisions to act based on unconscious belief/values-based criteria;
- are non-manipulative;
- offer change agents a new skill to engage the right people, address the right problem, and manage change without resistance;
- eschew information exchange for systems intervention;
- eliminate resistance by eliciting commitment and buy-in at the very beginning of any project or initiative or buy cycle;
- enable responders (facilitated by sellers, change agents, negotiators, or coaches) to simultaneously uncover the unconscious core of the problem and create the necessary change.
Here’s a simple example of the differences between conventional questions and Facilitative Questions:
Information-based question (conventional question used by a questioner to extract information or gather data for the questioner’s purposes): Why do you wear your hair like that? This is a biased question which extracts historic data from the responder’s memory according to the needs of the questioner, and may cause her to defend past decisions as the query might bump against underlying beliefs. The responder might have no idea of the reasons behind the question but certainly already knows the answer from a previous decision made. The question might feel invasive and her response will be commensurately biased.
Facilitative Question (sequential navigational question used by a facilitator to help responders discover unconscious belief-based criteria): How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle? This question neutrally brings together several indices that might make the responder curious without resistant, offers him the curiosity to examine choices and change possibilities, and compares current choices with past and future choices – all without manipulation, bias, or data gathering, and with no potential threat to the current system. The questioner as the facilitator becomes the change agent/servant leader.
In the example above, the question How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle the words ‘how’ ‘know’ ‘if’ ‘time’ ‘reconsider’ are all carefully placed and chosen to be resistance-avoidant, and directed to prior decisions while considering change and obligations. And most important, it doesn’t attack current or previous choices.
THE COMPLETE MODEL
Using Facilitative Questions, and incorporating my historic knowledge of systems, I then developed a decision facilitation model (called Buying Facilitation® as its initial use was in sales) that offers the ability to help others sequentially traverse their unconscious indices and design creative answers that weren’t originally obvious. Used and formulated most effectively, Facilitative Questions follow a specific sequence that makes change comfortable and resistance-free.
Think of Buying Facilitation® as a GPS system that knows the (systems) coordinates and can navigate people to their exact destination without needing to know the type of function the car is headed. A type of systems thinking model that initially ignores the information we are so accustomed to. So a facilitator, seller, or coach would first be neutral navigators that unwrap the unconscious and achieves buy-in, then uses conventional questions to gather and introduce specific data points.
The skills necessary for Buying Facilitation® include those people don’t normally possess or deliberately use together (As a person with a form of Asperger syndrome, my brain does this naturally.):
Listening for systems: we naturally listen for content and information. To formulate Facilitative Questions, it’s necessary to listen neutrally for the underlying metamessages where the unconscious lie and eschewing content. Later in conversations, listening for content is imperative.
Presumptive summaries: people often don’t consciously recognize the import of what they are saying. By offering a type of summary statement that delineates the underlying meaning behind the words – what is meant vs what is said – the responder gets help unwraping unconscious drivers.
Decision sequencing: there are 3 stages to all decisions. Asking Facilitative Questions in the order of the stages enables people to face change without resistance and include the criteria necessary for congruency.
My clients have achieved great success with the model: buyers buy in half the time as they immediately enlist the proper Buying Decision Teams and uncover their personal buy-in criteria; teams go through change implementations with collaboration and creativity and avoid resistance; leaders get buy-in and participation for initiatives easily; facilitators find the core of issues quickly. It’s a servant leader model: people are self-motivated to find their own best answers, and become willing to make congruent changes in a very short time. Change with integrity: no external coercion, persuasion or advocacy.
The big idea here is the switch from seeking or pushing specific data to being a neutral navigator to lead a responder through her own values and systems structure toward a potential willingness to change while maintaining systems congruence. The differences are important:
- from seeking and pushing content to facilitating the person’s own discovery of beliefs, values, identity issues and systemic drivers;
- from manipulation to servant leadership and neutral navigator;
- from pushing into a closed system to being accepted into a foreign system as a change agent;
- from bias and resistance to participation and creativity;
- from directing change and creating resistance to discovery, buy-in and participation.
To use Facilitative Questions and Buying Facilitation® requires a different sort of thinking and a different level of control. It requires that your outcome be to truly serve the other, to help her initiate and manage change from within – not with any content or directive from you, but true buy-in from her. Obviously your intent will shift as will your success: your sales, initiatives, implementations, and projects will be easier, shorter, and less costly.
What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to add a new questioning technique to your already superb questioning skills? How would you know that adding a new skill set would be worth the time/effort/cost to make you – and your clients – even more successful?
Thanks to Dr. Gerald A. Bush for being a reader and thinking buddy.
For those interested in learning more about this, Sharon Drew wrote about this extensively in Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what to do about it. www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com For those wishing to learn how to use this material, go to www.buyingfacilitation.com and look up the Guided Study material. Or contact her directly: firstname.lastname@example.org