Socrates , who is always synonymous with great teaching, never walked into a “class”( if you can call it that) with a text book or a power point presentation. His teaching was about asking the right questions and deciphering answers from listening to the answers. The right question sets the brain thinking, evokes curiosity and grows wisdom.
This is why the Socratic method is what mentors should master. And mind you, this is an art- something which has to be consciously cultivated. A question that seeks to build understanding would just unleash a powerful chain of activities than foster discovery making the mentoring experience much more enriching. A tip to every mentor is to follow Socrates mentoring secret – master the art of questioning.
The best way to ask the right question is to make a statement. The statement should be able to convey the message of understanding , reassuring the protege that the mentor is on the same wavelength and should also set the context for the discussion. In doing so , the mentor communicates to the protege that homework has been done and sets the background for the discussion. It also makes the protege less defensive, which would clearly not have been the case if a question was asked.
The right question is never information seeking . The purpose of questioning is to create a framework for thinking and self –discovery and hence the questions should be framed so as to evoke higher level thinking. Open – ended questions can be used in such a way that inspires the protege to think deep , develop clear understanding , which is perceived by the mentee as useful and implementable.
Have you noticed the way people respond to questions that open with “why”? These questions have the capacity to instantly evoke two types of reactions. One is to get people to retract into their cocoons, while the other is to make them defensive. Either does not work in mentoring. If questions are being asked to foster smoother and transparent interaction, then it is best to shy away from “why” .
The reason is that why is always associated with being judgemental and vindictive. Even if the “why” is asked calmly, it always triggers defensive hormones . Ask questions that let people forget themselves and involve themselves into trying to find answers.
A “right” question is never one which is asked for the sake of asking. It is important to design questions that lead the protege closer to his goal. The objective of the mentoring exercise should be where each question asked should point towards.
In doing so , the mentor helps the protege find answers on their own, instilling confidence and courage in them. It is also important to ask probing questions. The aim is not to diverge , but to converge and hence one question should lead to another , the series culminating at the objective.
If you look at great mentors, Jesus, Buddha, Aristotle one thing that is common to them was that they were all curious- strong believers that there is scope for learning everywhere. It is this curiosity in them that helped them evoke curiosity in their proteges by asking the right questions. Questions are the diamonds in mentoring. But to frame the right questions it is important to listen to the answers. Read on to know why mentors need to practice active listening.