Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

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Informational gathering processes are designed to assist leaders in asking questions that facilitate the thinking skills of observation and recall. Both observation and recall thinking skills are foundational to the collection and retention of specific facts.

When questioning to promote creative and critical thinking, it is important to use employees’ responses to guide subsequent questions within discussions and dialogues. Make sure to use predetermined formulated questions for dictating, channeling or directing employee responses.

Clues for posing appropriate and effective processing and probing questions are to be found in the responses given to the core questions that were asked. Because of this, leaders have to be adept listeners in order to ask appropriate processing questions that bring about quality responses.

There are seven different types of processing questions that can be used to generate higher levels of thinking. It is important to understand where and when to use each:

Refocusing Questions

Refocus questions are needed if employees are not doing enough in-depth thinking, or if are talking off the subject. To refocus employee responses, leaders may need to reacquaint them with what was said, and then restate the core question. It is important to provide specific examples when refocusing employees back onto a particular subject, idea or concept.

Clarifying Questions

Clarification is needed if responses are unclear, or if the leader feels that more appropriate language could be used to express the responder’s comment, opinion or idea. Applying clarifying questions is an excellent way to build vocabulary. Appropriate clarification questions help employees define words and bring meaning to their ideas. Most miscommunication and misunderstanding is caused by not clarifying words, thoughts, concepts or ideas accurately and appropriately.

Verifying Questions

Verifying questions provide opportunities to cite or give evidence for ideas or specific information. Responses tend to be based on personal experiences. When verifying information, it is important to state what authorities or experts say is true, and to use a principle or generalization to support the information.

Redirecting Questions

Redirecting questions are designed to enhance personal interactions. They should be asked as often as possible within topical discussions and investigative meetings, gatherings or sessions. Redirecting questions gain a variety of responses from different employees. Two ways to redirect thinking about something is to ask: “What is another (way…thing…idea) we can bring to light to discuss about this?” And, “Will someone else offer another idea or insight on this topic?”

Narrowing the Focus Questions

Narrow the focus questions are used to limit the content of what is discussed or talked about. They are based on the “content characteristics” or the concepts or ideas the leader plans to address, question and discuss.

Supporting Questions

Supporting questions should be asked in order to mentally link relationships between or among evidence and statements of inference, such as cause/effect and/or prediction. Supporting questions also provide opportunities to state reasons for groupings, labels, sequences and classifications.

Recall and Verification Questions

Verification is especially critical in recalling pieces of data, information or concepts. Verification is gathered both as part of the primary material covered, as well as outside of it, in the form of past experiences, authorities, principles and generalizations.

Verifying through experiences, authorities, principles and generalizations further extends an employee’s investigative skills by building additional evidence to support facts. When discussing specific facts of a particular concept or principle, the leader should ask several kinds of verifying questions so that employees become more enlightened by their understanding of the facts. For example, if an employee is asked the basic verification question, “How do you know ____?” and the employee responds, “Because I ____.” it is important to follow up with another verification question that asks, “Where did you find that information?”

Informational Gathering Processes

By providing employees the opportunity to practice observing and recalling, they will better understand the thinking skills and become more aware of the types of questions they need to ask themselves when encountering situations which call for gathering and retaining information. Situations that require the observing-thinking skill must be real and representational. While situations that require the recalling-thinking skill must include questions with words that cue recollection. This at first may seem unnecessary or unimportant, however, by using cueing words, the leader assists employees in understanding how they gathered the topical content.

It also enables employees to provide sound, verifiable evidence. For example, if a leader says: “Tell me about the work task you did yesterday,” employees can say how they felt about it, or talk about other tasks or assignments they liked. Further, by using the “cues” for recall, “What do you recall about your last assignment in terms of its importance?” the employee is more apt to speak directly to the details of the assignment and/or associated tasks.

Apply a Questioning Reflection Guide

There may come a time when a leader discovers that problems have surfaced when conducting a particular instructional session or meeting discussion with their employees. It may be a good policy (at least initially) to tape and transcribe at least a 5 or 10 minute interactive question and answer process. Then have another leader or peer critique the session and suggest ways to improve upon the question and answer process.

Specific things to listen for include the types of questions and sequence of questions that promote employee responses and thinking, and how to better utilize the responses. One other important thing to listen for is the pauses that occur during the “wait time” and the amount of time that passes between questions and responses.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about highly effective and advanced questioning techniques for use in the workplace, refer to Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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8 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Jamar L. Freeze.

    Jamar Freeze

    December 1, 2011 at 6:25 pm

  2. [...] Related: Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills [...]

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