Being Generative: Ask a Question

(This article was written as the second installment of three articles on being generative in any situation where you want to be helpful. Please check out the first one: Being generative in a supporting relationship.)

A simple technique for mitigating any judgments or projections that may be present, is to ask a question instead of making a statement. Asking questions is hands down the best way to create a generative space. However, not all questions are created equal, and here are some helpful and unhelpful kinds of questions to consider.

Three Kinds of Generative Questions:

1. Clarifying question – “can you help me understand what you mean by that?”

2. Explorative – “are you talking about a whole new way to understand relationships here?

3. Brainstorming – working together on the answers in the spirit of there is no wrong answer – “do you think we could…?”

Three kinds of Un-generative Questions:

1. A statement of fact disguised as question – “are you not aware that there is no such thing?”

2. A negatively framed question – “I donʼt get it, are you sure you know what you are doing?

3. A rhetorical question (a negative assertion) – “isnʼt it obvious?”. However, a rhetorical question can also be stimulating and supportive in a team/co- creative situation – “what if we consider…?”. The danger comes when theyʼre didactic (teachy or preachy), smug, or sarcastic. When the power of the question is in the asking, not the answering, it can open up the collective thinking rather than shutting it down.

The question is the antidote to the stuck, unmoving judgement and projection. A question is pliable, flexible. A question can be turned into a better question or rejected, or it can be something to bounce from. The gesture of the question can be generative and supportive. When in a situation where you wish to be of help, making a statement doesnʼt often encourage flow in the conversation. However, you carry genuine concerns and doubts, which need to be voiced. Try turning your statements – “I am concerned about this, I donʼt see how it can work” – into questions: “could you help me understand better how this could work?”

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