Want to Be More Productive? Be Like Socrates

Asking disciplined questions helps leaders examine issues in multiple ways.

August 18, 2014
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333We have so much to learn from the Greeks. Socrates was crazy smart and a master of asking questions.

The Socratic method of asking disciplined questions causes you to think in a variety of ways. These questions often allow the conversation to get in more depth and uncover issues—and they often lead to more questions.

This technique is disciplined, systematic, and deep.

Applying the six types of questions he often used will accelerate your critical thinking skills, deepen your conversations with members and improve your leadership ability. If you want conversations to be more productive, choose some of these questions today:

Clarification questions, which ask the speaker to go deeper and provide more than a surface response:

  • Why do you think that?
  • What exactly does that mean?
  • Can you give me an example of that?

Probing assumptions, which ask the speaker to recognize the assumptions on which an argument is based:

  • How did you choose those assumptions?
  • What else could we assume?
  • What would happen if we…?

Probing evidence and reasons. Rather than questioning assumptions, these questions request more evidence:

  • How do you know this?
  • What do you think causes…?

Questioning viewpoints. Most arguments are made from a position. These questions are useful to discover other viewpoints:

  • Why is this better than…?
  • What is the difference between … and…?
  • May I play devil’s advocate and ask…?

Probe consequence. These questions help people realize the impact of their decisions on the business:

  • How will this affect…?
  • What are the implications of…?
  • What are the consequences of this decision?

Question the question. This may be frustrating for some, especially if they want the answer:

  • Why do you think I asked?
  • What is the point of asking these questions?

To avoid having conversations become heated, focus your question on the issue, not the person who makes the statement.

If you want to be a more productive conversationalist and increase your strategic and critical thinking skills, be more like Socrates and ask more questions.

Choose one type of questioning technique and try it out in your next team meeting.

How can you apply this with your team?

NEEN JAMES is a leadership expert and author of “Folding Time” and “Secrets of Super Productivity.”

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