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From the Road: Again with the Questions

Steve WillisSteve Willis is a Master Trainer and Vice President of Professional Services at VitalSmarts.

From the Road

It all started with what seemed like an innocuous question. And since then I’ve been wondering about a personal training practice to which I hadn’t given much thought recently—specifically the questions I use. My current practice was called into question (here used as figure of speech rather than a reference to the specific training practice mentioned in the second sentence, or the actual inciting question referenced in the first sentence) during our annual REACH conference in August. One of my colleagues, Cricket, made the following statement, “the way you ask questions is a measure of whether you are testing the participants’ understanding or encouraging them to test your own.” This really got me thinking, “What kinds of questions do I use?”

I realized that many of my questions were pretty darn good (if I do say so my pretty darn self), yet the questions I used to close off a section weren’t so great. And when I got really honest with myself—not so good at all.

I typically ask a question like, “What questions do you have about how/where you’d use these skills we’ve just covered?” if anyone responds (and so many times that’s a big IF), it’s usually in the form of a question for me.

If I instead ask, “How/where will you be able to use the skill of..?” or, “We’ve been talking about X principle, how would you summarize what it means in your own words?” I get to test how well they’ve understood the main teaching points I’ve been trying to convey, address any inaccuracies, and compare different responses.

As I’ve been making a conscious effort to make what might seem like a subtle shift in the types of questions I ask (switching to questions that test their knowledge and understanding), I’ve experienced a noticeable increase in the participants’ ability to understand and apply the training content. Any Questions?

2 thoughts on “From the Road: Again with the Questions”

  1. Bob Zimel

    Hi Steve: Thanks for sharing this terrific blog post. Asking questions, in the many ways facilitators do, is a foundation of strong facilitation.

    I think that each of the 2 types of questions you mentioned serves a different purpose:

    – “What questions do you have about…” is generally useful to check for understanding and to relate it to their job, while

    – “How will you be able to use the skill …” is useful to help them do action planning. This is the type of question that should be a part of any good wrap-up to training (1. what are your insights or learning; 2. how will you apply that back on the job; 3. what specific actions do you need to take to being applying those skills).

    Regards, Bob Zimel

  2. Jordan Smedaker

    Great insights about how slightly adjusting a question can create a totally different response from the participants. Your comments caused me to look in the mirror and evaluate the questions I ask. Thanks for sharing Steve

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