Should a consultant provide answers or ask questions?
Humble Consulting Inquiries by Ed Schein
1. Humble Inquiry
Start with either essentially sayings ‚tell me more’ or more focused questions. All this depends on the principle that initially the helper has to make the client feel comfortable and get basic information from ground zero; hence, it is best to begin with humble inquiry –open ended questions to which you truly do not know the answer.
2. Diagnostic Inquiry
Broad category of questions from ‚Huh’, or ‚Say that again’’, or ‚Help me to understand this’ to a pointed ‚Why did that happen?’ or ‚What did you do then?’ or ‚How did that make you feel?’
With a diagnostic question, I become a person with a point of view and have thereby begun to build the relationship in a certain direction. Diagnostic questions can be differentiated into three types:
- Conceptual – the basic question ‘why?’ which forces the client to think about and examine various aspects of what he has just told me and to think about causes.
- Emotional – the basic question ‘How did that make you feel?’ in reference to some event that the client has just talked about.
- Behavioral – the basic question ‘What did you do?’ in reference to some choice points in the client’s story.
3. Circular Questions and Process Focus
In a circular question you ask the client to speculate on how others in their system might be thinking, feeling, and/or behaving.
This type of question I asked in my experience when a client had ask me to visit her organization to interview her subordinates or take some other action that I am not comfortable with. I am then inclined to ask her;’ If I show up and go ahead and do that, what do you think the reaction will be?’
Diagnostic questions change the course of the conversation and invite the client to consider some other elements of her story, but they do not introduce new content in the conversation.
4. Suggestive Inquiry
Suggestive questions force new content into the story, content that did not come out of the client’s head. The big question about this type of intervention is when to do it, knowing that you are asking the client to think about something that he did not considered initially and knowing that the most dangerous aspect of being the helper is to give premature advice and thereby to undermine your own credibility.
It’s not a good idea until you feel having a Level Two relationship with the customer.
If it is so: Than you can ask ‘Did that not make you feel angry?’ or ‘Why did you withdraw instead of confronting the situation?’ or ‘In the future, do you think you could talk to the person?’ or ´Have you considered ….?´ (Something different than what the client’s story had revealed or what the client has proposed).
5. Process-oriented Inquiry
They come in three forms:
- Redirecting how the client is formulating her analysis of the problem
- redirecting what the client wants you to do in the helping process, and/or
- focusing on the interaction with the client in the here and now
As we look ahead to developing adaptive moves in complex, messy situations, redirecting the conversation and using more dialogic formats may become more necessary.
In your conversation with the client, you can always say, ‘How is this going?’ ‘Am I being helpful?’ ‘Is there something else I should be doing or asking you about?’ ‘Are we okay?’ or something similar.
6. Personal revelation
Humble Consulting attitude requires authenticity; you cannot fake or evolve a role that hides your reactions.
Humble Consulting is most likely to be helpful in restructuring the clients thought process I one or more of the following ways. The consultant can help the client
- Reformulate the problem
- Rethink what the client’s own role should be and
- Rethink what the consultant should do
It is in these process areas that help can occur exceptionally rapidly, even in the very first conversation, because the reformulation may make the client realize that she now knows what to do.
Next week you will read what we all can learn from Humble Consulting!
prepared by Andrea Martha Brunner