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Dive Deep With Socratic Questions to Solve Problems


Thu May 20 2021

Dive Deep With Socratic Questions to Solve Problems

As a TD professional, you have the opportunity to advocate for the needs of the business. To do that with greater ease and a more personable touch, try using Socratic questions in the consultative or needs analysis process.

Socratic questioning is at the heart of critical thinking. Named after Socrates, this method of questioning, when used in an educational setting, encourages the “student” to help uncover the answers. However, people use this method for many purposes and settings beyond a teacher and student context. This questioning approach gives people the space to process and discuss complex ideas, discern assumptions, and discover discrepancies between what they know and need to know. Some might call this deep thinking, and it is a critical skill to develop. Talent development professionals should be driven by deep thinking to successfully get to the root cause of performance challenges and appropriately serve the diverse and unique needs of the business.


Using Socratic questions to pursue thought in many directions and for many reasons can inspire your work environment and accomplish deep, meaningful solutions at work. By modeling the use of Socratic questions, you will find that you cannot only be a solution finder, but you can also inspire your work environment to ask better questions.

Socratic Question Types

There are six types of Socratic questioning listed below. I encourage you to orient yourself to these and refer to this list for needs analysis conversations and discussions when stakeholders come to you with a specific request already in mind to implement learning solutions.

  1. Ask questions to understand more deeply. Examples include:

  • Why do you say that?

  • Can you explain more about that?

  • How do you know that?

  1. Use questions that explore what is commonly assumed to be known or true. Examples include:

  • What could we assume instead?

  • What else could be a possibility?

  • How often does this challenge occur?

  • What is the ideal outcome?

  1. Try questions that challenge reasons and evidence that the group believes. Examples include:

  • What is an example of that?

  • Can you explain how that shows up day-to-day?

  • Why is that the current process the team uses?

  1. Inquire with questions that stretch viewpoints and assumed perspectives. Examples include:

  • What would be another way to try this?

  • Can we think of any other approaches?

  • Who disagrees with the current approach?

  1. Ask questions that push implications and consequences. Examples include:

  • What are you implying?

  • What challenges are under the surface?

  • What would happen if we tried this alternate approach?

  1. Use questions about the question to be sure the right questions are asked. Examples include:

  • What was the purpose of this question?

  • Why did you ask this question?

  • What questions haven’t we asked?

Use an Improvisational Mindset

In the practice of theatrical improvisation, the use of questions also supports the strength of Socratic questions. Improv is the practice of being human—it helps us practice communication, empathy, and decision making. It is a psychologically secure place to experiment and learn. With improv, questions are a tool to pull out humanity and understanding. With an improvisational mindset, there is no fear about the way a question is asked or what question is asked. The question is respected as simply a tool to get more information and find the best resolution. Good questions can become the majority the more you attempt to ask questions. Socratic questions make the practice of questioning more accessible.


Stay Compassionate and Curious

There is something powerful about using questions to dive deep in the pursuit of finding answers. The questions push what the assumed default answer is that is clouding the “surface level” view. This method for problem solving requires a human level of engagement, and talent development professionals can use their compassion in their questioning by gathering data while still conveying emotion, care, empathy, and an understanding of reality. The questions dig around the matter and help solve problems. And the carrier of the question is you, a talented, deep subject matter expert in learning and development. Allow the questions to free you from theory, regiment, and rules, and realize that the questions can free you to find the best solution. Maintain compassion and curiosity and get the following results: You’ll uncover answers together that may not have been found without your thoughtful probing, you’ll demonstrate your supportive ability to identify root problems and set yourself up to create the right type of solutions that your organization and people need.

Shannon Milliman, CPTD, gives keynotes and workshops to organizations applying improv principles to learning to help organizations become more resilient, agile and change-ready. Shannon is also a senior trainer in Florence, Alabama with Amazon. She is a writer, poet, and playwright, and she specializes in bringing art to learning strategy. She can be reached at [email protected].

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