Friday, August 19, 2011

The Art of Hosting: Framing Open Questions

As we at Minnesota Rising have embarked upon planning a tour of cascading conversations to be kicked off at our upcoming 2011 Un/Conference: "Building A Network For What's Next," a number of us are in design mode to illuminate just what exactly we are seeking to learn from our statewide convening of conversations. Another tool I garnered at the recent "Art of Hosting Yourself" training includes some guidelines for asking open questions by Caryl Hurtig Casbon. Even as these become useful to the work we're engaging in, hopefully they can be of assistance to y'all in your personal and professional interactions. As the quote from Rilke below urges, living the questions may allow us to live into the answers.
Framing Open Questions
By Caryl Hurtig Casbon

Some guidelines for asking open questions include the following:

1. The best single mark of an honest, open question is that the questioner could not possibly anticipate the answer to it.

2. Ask questions aimed at helping the focus person rather than at satisfying your curiosity.

3. Ask questions that are brief and to the point rather than larding them with background considerations and rationale—which make the question into a speech.

4. Ask questions that go to the person as well as the problem—for example, questions about feelings as well as about facts.

5. Trust your intuition in asking questions, even if your instinct seems off the wall.

6. Consider holding a question rather than asking it immediately, particularly if you're not sure it's a good question. If it keeps coming back to you, ask it later.

7. Allow questions to "bubble up" or emerge, rather than force them.

8. Watch the pacing of your questions. Questions coming too fast can feel aggressive.

9. Avoid any storytelling, or behaviors that call attention to yourself.

10. The best questions are simple questions.

11. Avoid questions with right/wrong answers.

12. Sometimes questions that invite images or metaphors can open things up in ways that more direct questions don't.

13. As you listen deeply to what is being said try to allow questions to come from your heart, rather than your head.

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart . . . Try to love the questions themselves . . . Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer."
-Rainer Maria Rilke


  1. Really enjoyed these tips for open questions. Good for me to keep in mind as I attempt to deepen conversations and put the focus more on the other person.


  2. Thanks for checking in, Katie! I'm right there with you on the quest to deepen conversations. And I particularly admire critical thinkers and those who can pose questions that incite wonder. Seems like a skill that is worth taking a whole life long to hone!


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