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How do I Ask the Right Questions? Mentoring and the Socratic Method

How do I Ask the Right Questions? Mentoring and the Socratic Method

How do I Ask the Right Questions? Mentoring and the Socratic Method

Let’s say you’ve got a burgeoning mentorship program at your company, but now your mentor and mentees want advice on how to approach their meetings? Look no further, because at eMentorConnect, we’ve got advice on advice on advice for you! Last week we talked about the importance of active listening, but this week we’re focusing on the conversation itself. You don’t need to have all the answers– just the opposite. You just need to know how to ask the right questions!

Socrates pioneered his namesake approach to collaborative understanding. He posited that by asking questions, one could whittle down hypotheses to develop a shared conclusion. Furthermore, by asking questions instead of making declarative statements, your mind remains open to a greater host of possibilities. We believe that questions are powerful tools that allow the mentoring relationship to grow through positivity and strength. But maybe you’re asking, “what are the right kind of questions?” Look, you’re already doing it! Here’s how to stay on track.

Your questions should:

  • Be open-ended – These questions cannot be answered in tight, definitive, one-word answers. They require the participants to delve into richer explanations and get to know each other better.
  • Avoid “why?” – Particularly when two people from different backgrounds or generations are getting to know one another, they may be presuming judgment from each other from the start. Avoid questions that ask “why,” which can sometimes come across as value judgments, and shut down candid communication.
  • Move the conversation forward – There’s nothing wrong with getting feedback on someone’s past experiences, but dwelling too much on setbacks doesn’t accomplish much. Instead focus questions more on determining what the other person wants to get out of the mentorship or how they’d like to see their career evolve in the future.

Examples of Questions:

We could list dozens of open-ended questions, but you’re reading a blog, not a novel! Here are a few examples that demonstrate an approach you may not have considered:

“If we were to focus on one or two things today that would convince you that our meeting was a success, what would they be?”
This question sets up the meeting for positive, forward movement, not only because it establishes the possibility of immediate rewards, but also because it encourages participants to speak directly.

“How much are you willing to invest – time, energy, money?”
We’ve mentioned the importance of establishing realistic expectations in past blogs, but this question doesn’t beat around the bush. Get it out of the way at the beginning, and both participants will know where they stand.

“If there were no obstacles in your way, what would you do?”
This question prompts participants to brainstorm and be realistic about what stands in their way, and what roadblocks they may be creating for themselves.

“Which of your suggested solutions do you feel is most within your control?”
When discussing a mentee’s opportunities and strategies moving forward, he or she can get frustrated or discouraged at the more daunting aspects of achieving success. Encourage the mentee to contrast the steps in their control and those that rely on an external factor. By focusing on what he or she can do, the participant becomes more present and can let the rest go.

Don’t forget that Socrates himself launched a mentoring approach that inspired Plato, who went on to influence Aristotle. Mentoring and question-based conversation have gone hand in hand for a measly 2,400 years! Don’t be late to the party– encourage your mentoring participants to use open-ended questions. eMentorConnect®’s KNOX® platform can even present your company’s participants with many more questions sectioned into a reasonable, focused meeting timeline.

Kate Mason