Question to Understand

This is one of series of blogs that are a retrospective reflection on Integral City Community of Practice’s experience in taking the In This Together (ITT) course on basic facilitation skills taught by Diane Musho Hamilton and Ten Directions.

In the fifth module of the course we moved from the perspectives we can bring to the table, to the questions we can use to discover what are the points of view held by different speakers.

Questioning appropriately lies at the heart of the Integral City Inquiry Intelligence. But posing questions is an art, requiring attention to the context in which we find ourselves and respect for the person or persons we are engaging with.

Questions on the bus, IEC 2014!!

Questions on the bus, IEC 2014!!

It turns out that in order to appreciate the 4 Voices and discover the points of view they hold, questions are essential ways to connect with other people.

One person in our Integral City group confessed that she constantly has a list of questions she wants to ask others but often does not. This comment was reinforced with the observation that, “Too often I conclude that people are saying something vague or that I don’t comprehend and I conclude that there is no value in really understanding. As a result I miss the opportunity to learn more.”

Diane Hamilton gave an especially personal example of the homework question (What is it like to parent an adult Down syndrome child?). One of our group realized that she was uncomfortable in hearing how intimate this question was but realized that in order to practise questioning at a deep level she had to be willing to invite an equally personal question from others. Only by modelling such a depth of inquiry can you expect others will trust you to reciprocate with equally personal questions. This can be the gateway to discovering perspectives and truly listening to the individual voices at the table.

What was the ITT homework?

Week 5 homework was:

  1. Formulate a question that you would like someone else to ask you.
  2. Formulate a question that you would like to ask someone else.

 

1.What did we experience in accomplishing the homework on questioning to understand?

One key learning was that questioning helps us to understand what other people mean. It can move us from the realm of vagueness about some issue to one of clarity and shared understanding. Questioning respectfully definitely helps others to “unpack” their meaning.

We remarked on Rudyard Kipling’s reminders for asking good questions; i.e., keep the question open by using one of the 4+1 W’s – who, what, where, why + how.

Another observation was to pose questions in the “now” so that responses can reveal where both you and the other person are present in time/space/relationships.

 

2.So What does the homework on questioning to understand have to do with Integral City practice or training?

Questions and the Inquiry Intelligence are related to the Integral City Contexting Intelligences. Often we need to start by asking questions that help us understand context before we can engage further on the issues; e.g. asking an American about how they feel about renewable energy, might provoke different responses before or after the Trump election.

If context helps to pose a question, and self-awareness about my own curiosities impacts what questions I ask, then one of our group wondered, “What question aren’t you asking me?” Perhaps if we wondered that out loud, we would invite an answer and exchange we could never have guessed was possible.

One person went on to notice that, “ I am sensitive when people are too quickly jumping to conclusions instead of finding out the intentions behind my behavior. I wish they would ask me questions instead of leaping to assumptions.”

However, we agreed that making assumptions tends to be much more the norm than asking questions. Then we asked ourselves, what it might mean to train oneself to not think you know?

Another noticed that some people in her relationships did not really have an inquiring mind. They prefer to stay with remarks on current events instead of getting to a deeper level that can lead to genuine curiosity. We agreed that questioning invites a kind of interaction that is much more multi-dimensional.

Interestingly we suggested that assumptions and context relate to how to ask questions. We recalled that Don Beck (in Spiral Dynamics integral training) used questions to probe the readiness and willingness of others to listen, relate or change.  His method was similar to Diane’s prompting questions:  to make change or influence a habitat, point your questioning “finger” at the other person, probe the target and see what happens. If the other person flinches (i.e., contracts) you have probed too deeply or painfully. If the other party relaxes (i.e. expands) you have found an opening to proceed further.

We remarked that probing is a form of appreciatively questioning. It should not be used as weapon (by asking too deeply) , but rather like Diane demonstrated, used as a gift to draw out the other person in a  zone that stretches and/or focuses without oppressing or intimidating.

One practitioner shared a useful learning process in reframing closed questions (with Yes/No answers) to open questions (using the 5 W’s).  We need to use our internal editor to turn closed into open questions. (In other words be attentive and intentional in framing our questions.) Learning how to do that requires a lot of practice. But it is very important in the city because asking questions in an appreciative way means that the genuinely interested questioner can release him/herself from judging before listening.

This really impacts how we relate to different perspectives. Basically, it shows us how we cannot walk in the shoes of another without truly being curious what it is like to be in those shoes. Question’s open the door to gaining such an experience in the Integral City. Therefore, learning the art of the questioning is deeply beneficial for work in groups, organizations, communities and the 4 Voices of the city.

In fact, working together in the way of mutually respectful questioning, can inspire collective wisdom and the Human Hive Mind. It is a way of “feeding each other”.

Paradoxically, at same time as practising questioning in a group like this, individuals don’t lose their own perspective. Instead it seems there is potentially a way to see value and life in the collective without losing one’s own identity. Somehow there is alchemy in the group setting where questions are used around the table. People can see their own wisdom as part of where the group actually goes. Although it may be hard for another person to let go of their own perspective, if they realize that the table is acknowledging them through questioning, it lets them notice and/or create new pathways to joint understanding because they can sense they are being recognized.

One practitioner learned to notice some questions she thought were safe may not feel safe to others. For example, working with immigrant women, she asked with honest curiosity where they came from. But the women’s homelands and/or their journeys had been so traumatic and dangerous, they did not feel safe to answer her. That was quite a powerful learning – that even a seemingly simple or basic question can be charged with context or history that we must notice and respect.

 

3.Now What will we do as a result, of our homework experience and sharing on questioning to understand?

  • We can learn to love to be a master in asking others good questions so that different lenses come through.
  • In a contentious board situation, the facilitator can ask what the stakeholders would like to know, and see if she can share her assumptions so they know where she is coming from, instead of being only authoritative and bottom-line oriented. The facilitator can be open to hear others’ fears as well as their curiosities.
  • As we are being curious –  listen well, involve our own interests, and find balance.
  • We can show others a way to go into Questions instead of pain.
  • Inquiry is an Integral City intelligence. Our forthcoming book 2 on Inquiry and Action in the Human Hive, received a testimonial from Action Research/Learning expert, Hilary Bradbury, who said that Book 2 was full of great questions. Nothing she could say, would make the author feel more seen and heard. She appreciated the questions, at the end of each chapter, especially because they represented clusters of question from each perspective.
  • Inquiry as a practice does not mean we use idiot inquiry (like idiot compassion) – instead we must use inquiry with the other strategic intelligences, formulating intentions in the city, drafting questions and revising them as we become sensitive to who is listening and who is responding. Artful inquiry can make us be alert to our other Integral capacities as Activators, by listening and inquiring through all 4 Quadrants.
  • We recognize the importance of deep listening and deep respect in the questioning process gives us a chance to deeply understand each other and co-create where we want to go.

About the Author:

HI I am the Founder of Integral City Meshworks Inc. and Chief Blogger. Working with cities and eco-regions, I ‘meshwork’ or weave people, purpose, priorities, profits, programs and processes to align contexts, grow capacity and develop strategies for sustainability and resilience in the Integral City. You can read more details about me here http://integralcity.com/about/about-the-founder/

2 Comments

  1. […] In terms of the learning cycle we found participating in the ITT class, followed by our homework experience reinforced a cycle of differentiation and integration that reinforced our learning. We also notice that each class built on the others preceding it and gave us both practice in individual skills and cumulative connections amongst them; e.g. linking intentions, listening and asking questions. […]

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