Questioning 101

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asking questions in mentoring

Generally speaking a mentor has a focus on asking questions rather than talking too much in a discussion. There will be a sharing of information and the meeting certainly doesn’t want to be an inquisition but a comfortable mix of questions, answers and input will lead to a productive session.

Many mentors are experienced managers and as good managers we often fall into the expediency trap and pepper our conversation with colleagues with closed questions – “did you”, “will you”, “have they’, “is it” etc. In our time-pressured environments, we’re sometimes only wanting to verify information rather than end up on long discussions.

In a mentoring context, closed questions can be really useful if you want to focus a discussion or control a conversation if your mentee is want to talk a lot or evade answering for example.

The old favourites “who, what, why, when, where and how” establish a round of open-ended questions which will also serve you well.  This questioning technique draws out more information, enables someone to give fuller answers and helps you to probe a little more deeply to identify issues or get the mentee to expand their thinking.

A word of caution: use the “why” question sparingly – it often puts people on the defensive and you’re not likely to want to go there in a mentoring relationship!

So, check in with the amount of questioning vs talking you are doing a in a mentoring conversation, and the type of questions you are using to elicit responses.