How to listen to unlock: a questioning technique to get someone unstuck
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How to listen to unlock: a questioning technique to get someone unstuck

By Martin Cole

Here is Jennifer Garvey Berger with a really useful questioning and – perhaps more importantly – listening technique that works when you are dealing with somebody who can’t move forward to resolve a problem or issue.

The 3 stages of the listening to unlock technique

1. Ask different questions that push to the edges of what is at stake.

This is about getting past the surface reasons that are being given for not solving the problem. It involves questions like:

  • What is at risk here for you?
  • What is the real issue with this for you?
  • What is there about this that you fear?

2. Ask the question several times focusing on what it means for the person and how they are making sense of the problem.

Here you are looking to delve deeper with each asking of the question.

For example, the answer to the question ‘what is at risk here for you?’ might be:

“If I do this I may risk damaging my relationship with the head of that part of the business.”

You should then ask: “So what is at risk for you if you damage that relationship?

If the answer is: “It may mean others are influenced against me,” the next question is “So, what is at risk for you if others are influenced against you?

And so on…

3. Get to the boundary and find the equals.

Eventually your questions take your counterpart to the point where there is nowhere else to go, i.e. where there is no deeper answer or explanation.

So, following through on the example above, you might get to point where the answer is: “it will mean that nobody likes me.”

You can test it further, but an answer like that is likely to signpost the boundary of the issue and what it equals – i.e. what it means for the person or what else is bound up with it at a personal level.

It is with this knowledge you can start to construct potential solutions that take into account these deep seated concerns.

About the Author

I'm Martin Cole. I am a UK qualified lawyer, a leader within the financial services regulatory and compliance sector and an organisational and executive coach. I have an Master of Science (M.Sc). in coaching psychology and am certified as a coach by the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership. I also have a Bachelor of Laws (LLB (Hons.)) and was admitted as a barrister by the Inner Temple (now non-practising). I have lived and worked in London and Sydney and now live near Edinburgh in Scotland with my wife and two daughters. I support Crystal Palace FC, have wide ranging musical tastes (especially Jazz, Blues and Soul) and oppose mediocrity, selfishness and organisations that fail to value their people.

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