All of us have experienced meetings that bog down, get derailed, or run aground. Sometimes
it’s pretty dramatic, and sometimes it’s just a more extreme version of business as usual; but
regardless, it is demoralizing and generally makes it hard to accomplish the work you intended
to do. This can happen for many reasons, and it can be hard to figure out the whys, so it is
important to have tools for getting things moving in a useful way again even when you are not
entirely clear about what’s happening.
There are many good facilitation tools for this repair/refocus work, including:
- Asking curiosity-based questions.
- Reflecting back a pattern you think you are seeing (and then check in to see if others are
perceiving it too).
- Proposing a process to help the group move forward. (See my handout on Different Formats for Meetings).
- Asking participants to reflect back what they thought they heard, or what they think they
understand, to head off “disagreements” based on misunderstandings (happens way
more often than you think).
- Legitimizing differences and help people hear each other – by restating what you are
hearing people say while stating clearly that there is value in their different perspectives.
- Providing empathy (acknowledge with compassion, not judgement, that they are having
strong feelings, and be clear that you want to know what’s important to them about
The rest of this article and exercise below are focused on one tool that I think is both powerful
and underappreciated: asking curiosity-based questions.
Here is a link to a list of curiosity-based questions sorted by need/function. For instance, there
are questions to use when you need more clarity, when you need to build consensus, etc. They
are designed to engage your curiosity, and that of the other participants in the meeting, and, in
doing so, help the group move forward in more useful ways. (If the link doesn’t work, the URL
Tasha Harmon • New Perspectives • 503-788-2333 • Tasha@Tasha-Harmon.com
to paste into your browser is http://www.tasha-harmon.com/pdf/Using_What_Questions_to_Move_Mtgs_Forwar….)
You can simply use that list when you are facilitating, or participating in, meetings, or you can
do the exercise below, by yourself or with others, as a capacity building exercise.
1. Think about a time a meeting got bogged down, derailed, or ran aground.
2. If you are doing this in a group, share those examples, and pick one to start with.
3. Look at the list of questions and try to find at least 3 that might have helped move the
4. If you are doing this in a group, discuss the implications of this, and how you might use the
list in meetings. (If you are working alone, reflect on this last question.)
Note: When you are using these questions in meetings:
- Use questions you are actually curious about.
- Make up your own questions – again, the criteria is “what are you actually curious about
- Use open-ended questions that will spark lists and dialogue (rather than yes/no
questions) and be careful not to ask questions that are judgements in disguise.
- Follow up initial questions with more questions (“What else?” is often a good choice)
until you feel like you have surfaced what needs to surface to be able to move forward.
Usually, we rush to “solutions/fixes” too soon and end up missing critical information.
- Offer empathy before asking questions if feelings are running high. When people feel
seen and heard they are less likely to respond to a question defensively.
- If you are too triggered to actually be curious, take a break or hand off facilitation; these
questions won’t work well if they are not coming from a genuine place of curiosity.
If you are curious about why all the questions on my list begin with “what” rather than “why,”
here is a link to an article about what’s useful about transforming why to what.
© Tasha Harmon, 2018 This article first appeared in the Different Angles eNewsletter)
If you are interested in more tools like this one, you will find many downloadable handouts and articles on my website: www.Tasha-Harmon.com. Here are direct links to the Tools page on the Individual Coaching side of my website – www.tasha-harmon.com/tools – and the Resources page of the Organizational Development side – www.tasha-harmon.com/resources – both of which have tools that will be relevant to living in a cohousing community. (If the links don’t work, pasting the URL into your browser should.)
Written by Tasha Harmon, who will be co-leading the pre-conference intensive Moving Through
Hard Times with Tree Bressen on May 31 st , and leading Building Mutual Respect and Trust on
June 1 st .
Tags: curiosity, effective questions, Facilitation, meetings