Open-ended questions

On my second day of mediation training (halfway done with the full training!), I received an awesome compliment from one of the facilitators. She said that I have a talent for open-ended questions.

I especially appreciated this compliment because I really like asking open-ended questions.

What is an open-ended question? (Yes, that was an example of one.) An open-ended question is any question that cannot be answered with a “yes”, a “no” or another one word answer such as a number or color. An open-ended question provokes a meaningful response.

It reminds me of a management lesson I learned from the Interactive Institute for Social Change when I took their workshop, Managing with Impact, a few years ago.

The main thing I took from the management workshop is that it is important for a manager to balance inquiry with advocacy. When we advocate as managers, we give people advice, direction, instructions, or solutions to their problems. When we practice inquiry, we use open-ended questions to help the person being managed to find insights into their situation or problem or come to a solution.

My feedback from the management workshop leaders was that I could do more advocating, and a little less inquiry. I think I am still on the side of being more of an inquirer than an advocate, but I have become better at advocacy as my experience has grown. In some situations, I have been too far on the advocacy side of the balance. Advocating feels like a lot of pressure sometimes, because as a manager I don’t usually have as much information to advocate for a solution or an approach, and I need to rely more on my intuition.

A mediator’s job is only to reflect, reframe, and inquire. It is unlike a manager’s job in that no advocacy is expected or desired. I am really enjoying the opportunity to practice open-ended questions and inquiry with mediation training. I recommend it for managers who want to become better at the inquiry side of the balance.