Mentor asking questions

Skills for Effective Mentoring: Asking Questions

February 2, 2024

Posted by BOLDLY

Far more people focus on having the “right answer”, rather than finding the “right question”. The most powerful questions help to generate insights, ideas and motivate people. It also allows self-exploration of information individuals have on hand, and leads a person to understand themselves, and their problems better. Most importantly, conclusions drawn from questioning by mentees are more memorable, making it more likely for ideas to stick, and as a result lead to successful action. 

To ask effective questions, it is important to pre-plan what you hope to discuss, and making sure questions are designed as open questions. Open questions (e.g what do you think of the job role?) encourage  far greater insights than closed questions (Eg. Do you like this job role?)

There are a range of question types that can be used for different purposes. Some questions provide structure, others direct flow, and some help us to reach closure. Question types include: 

  • Open questions - to gather information and facts, for example "What are your concerns and worries about this situation?" 
  • Probing questions - to gain additional detail, e.g. "Can you explain why that matters?"
  • Hypothetical questions, to suggest an approach or introduce new ideas. An example might be "If you could get additional funding or resources, how might that help?"
  • Reflective questions - to check understanding, such as "So would you prioritise the most critical areas for attention first and make sure that everyone knew what was most important?" 
  • Leading questions - to help a person reach a conclusion or have an ‘idea’ that you feel will be beneficial; a few well planned questions can very often lead the person towards the idea and instead of responding to your request, they have their idea of how to help you be more successful. 
  • Deflective questions - to defuse an aggressive or defiant situation by redirecting the force of the other person’s attack instead of facing it head-on. ‘Attacks’ are synonymous with dissatisfaction, insubordination or resistance and prevent you from moving forward. Dealing with a strong objection by responding with similar force creates conflict. Deflective questions help to transform negative situation into a collaborative problem-solving occasion. 
  • Some examples include: 

Dissatisfaction: I’m not happy with this project! Response: What can WE do to make it right? 

Insubordination: I have major concerns. I won’t do it! Response: How can WE address your concerns? 

Resistance: I disagree with the approach! Response: If you were to do it, what would be your approach? 

  • Closing questions, to bring agreement, commitment and conclusion, e.g. "When will you talk to your team and the client about this?" 

Looking for more resources?

Mentoring programs for organisations

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