The 7 stages of questions

As coaches, leaders, sales people, conversation partners in general, if we want to learn something, we need to ask open questions. “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new”, is a quote attributed to the Dalai Lama. In our current times of conflict, derision and divisiveness it is ever more important to listen well and ask good questions in order to learn and create positive interactions.

Let’s suppose you want to find out what your conversation partner wants from the conversation and they have stated that they want to think about an upcoming move. You might talk about this in many different ways. I have sorted them into stages of questions (maybe there are more, but this is what I am coming up with):

So you want to think about the move.

This is a statement, not a question. It’s strength is the clarity it achieves. Its weakness is that it can leave little wiggle room for the conversation and close or focus the discussion early, before any exploration has taken place. Also, your conversation partner has to actively contradict you, which they might not do and you risk galloping into the wrong sunset together.

I am hearing you want to think about your upcoming move.

This statement allows for a possible clarification from the other side. You are saying that you are “hearing that”, not that the other person said it. There is an invitation to say more.

I am hearing you want to think about your move. Push back if I am wrong.

Here we have an open invitation to push back, to clarify. There is already a small sign of curiosity here and an implied invitation to explore more.

Would you like to think about your upcoming move?

Our first question, albeit a closed one. Your conversation partner can say yes/no and you achieve clarity on the issue whether your conversation partner wants to think about the move or not. It does not open the conversation further, though.

Would you like to think about your move or about the other topic you mentioned?

Supposing there was another topic, the conversation partner now has a choice: a or b.

Would you like to think about your move, the other topic you mentioned or about something else?

This closed question is almost an open one as it invites the conversation partner to think broadly. The discussion can now be about anything.

What would you like to talk about?

Tadaaaa — and here we have an open question. It does not limit the conversation partner and does not frame the conversation partner’s thoughts in what you heard.

If you would like to explore more around questions and stages, why not join one of our free meetup and exchanges: