How about replacing exclamations with questions?

This suggestion is relevant to all sorts of situations in life, from the work of coach or Scrum Master (SM) to our daily participation in social networks. Communicating through questions is far more empathetic and educational. In fact, the title phrase only appears to be a suggestion because it’s in the form of a question, with an exclamation mark it would sound like an order.

Coaching

The work of coaching differs from the traditional job of consulting in various ways, but mainly because it brings more questions than answers. Major traditional consulting (even those claiming to be agile) presents answers and complete recipes for their clients’ concerns. We, Agile coaches, prefer to first help the clients ask the right questions. Then we want to guide them towards thinking for themselves. Finally, we can arrive together at the next experiments to solve the problems systemically.

Let’s take a look at an example: when we come across a Scrum Master taking the lead in the daily meeting (a serious and common dysfunction), instead of us saying “everyone should speak at the daily meeting!” (with an exclamation mark), we prefer to ask “What’s the objective of the daily meeting?”. And then we can guide our interlocutor (possibly the SM himself) to an understanding of why there is this dysfunction.
There are various advantages to this form of coaching:

  • By enabling people to think it through for themselves (just guided by questions), we build a neuronal pattern that can be repeated. The next time they have a problem of a similar nature, they can again follow this train of the thought and reconstruct the cause and effect relationship themselves.
  • Because they are the ones reaching the conclusion, there’s a high level of engagement. Doing something imposed by someone is rarely engaging.
  • Upon identifying a problem, a coach (or SM) generally looks for a possible root cause right away, which is fundamental to solving problems systemically. However, this will only be a possibility. By asking questions, we allow ourselves to be mistaken. It may be that the questions lead us to a different root cause than we’d imagined. In this case, we change to the right course and generate learning for the coach.

Feedback

Giving feedback is of itself a vast topic. There are numerous possible techniques and scripts. For example, starting with positive criticism (praise) and then constructive criticism (what can be improved). And for the latter: how about using more questions than exclamations?

Instead of criticizing an action “you shouldn’t have done that!” we can instead say “why did you do this?”. Again, the chances are there’s a reason or justification we’re not aware of.

Adjust the discourse according to the profile

Changing to a more interrogatory discourse is especially important with certain personality profiles. Creative types especially feel very hampered when sentences are filled with exclamations. Typically, analytical profiles like set ideas, but this will create conflict with creative minds who like being part of the solution and reject formulas.

Social Networks

Nowadays, conflicts on social networks are common to most of our lives. Work discussions, family feuds or misunderstandings between friends are all over the social networks. Often they’re merely the consequence of an exclamation. The next conflict you see on a social network, check back up the timeline. You’ll probably find a point where, had the sentence been in the form of a question, much of the stress which came later would have been avoided. In your next posts, swap exclamations for questions #cooltip

Giving class

The traditional (boring) class is where the content is delivered directly, the teacher passes on information and the students are made to absorb it by force. We often say this is the push model of teaching because we push the content down your throat. In a pull model, the class is lead-based on questions. Awaking curiosity should be the first step in the art of teaching. With questions, we also make the class interactive and the audience more engaged. More experienced or knowledgeable students, who quickly lose interest in push classes, can also contribute in pull classes.

Children’s education

Those who are parents know how valuable asking your children questions can be, so they reach their own conclusions. The advantages include teaching them to think, awaking a sense of enjoyment for a challenge, etc. Very early children start valuing questions far more than answers. In particular, the question “Why?” is especially important (the most important of the six questions in the world known by the abbreviation 5W1H). In other words, “why?” is the question we should most ask children and the one we should value most in them. Praise them when they ask it and, at the same time, feel pleasure in the challenge of answering as best you can. Sometimes, the best way for parents to answer may be: “Great question! I’m not sure of the answer, but let’s find out together?”.

Conclusion

Asking is great and so is listening to questions. How about encouraging everyone to ask questions rather than make affirmations? Let’s get going?

To find out more about this theme, check out our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) training.

Rodrigo de Toledo
Rodrigo de Toledo
Rodrigo de Toledo is a cofounder at Knowledge21, a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) by Scrum Alliance, a Kanban Coaching Professional (KCP) and Accredited Kanban Trainer (AKT) by Kanban University, and a Management 3.0 Facilitator. In the academic context, he completed his Ph.D. in France, published several papers internationally, and taught for 12 years at PUC-Rio and UFRJ, two of the most prestigious universities in South America.

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