3 Great Questions to Ask When a Meeting Gets Stuck

Artfully and diplomatically guide a meeting that is going nowhere back into productivity.

In a recent webinar, a participant asked, “When I’m facilitating a meeting, what are great questions for me to ask?” Well, that is a great question!  Here we are looking at three kinds of questions you can use in any meeting to get people engaged and produce concrete outcomes. 

What I have observed with my students who are new to facilitation is that they are too casual about choosing the questions that are the best fit for the current need in the meeting.  What I see them do, which is wrong, is to plan an agenda that is just a list of topics and then start talking about each topic.  For example, “Today we are talking about the budget.  What do you think we should do?” 

To make a meeting effective it is best to detail the specific question the group is supposed to answer.  This is especially true for online meetings where there are more communication challenges. 

But you have an advantage—the way our brain works.  To demonstrate, let me do a quick exercise to show the power of questioning.  Pause your thinking, take a breath, and think about, what color is your house?  Could you not think about the answer to that question?  And did you go on and think about other things like, “Wow!  My house does need to be repainted” or “I wonder what color I want next time?” 

Our brains are biologically hardwired to follow the question.  When you ask a question, people automatically try to answer it.  So, your advantage is that questions are powerful direction setters when you are leading a meeting.  Here are three kinds of questions that are serviceable across many, many meeting situations. 

First are, “What?” questions.  These are usually exploratory questions.  For example, “What happened?”, “What might happen?”, and, even, “What needs to be decided by the end of this meeting?”   These are retrospective analysis questions and prospective or future-oriented prediction questions.

Second are, “Why?” questions.  People who meet are often charged with the challenge of doing some kind of analysis about how they got into the particular situation they are in.  These questions are exploratory questions to dig into why a series of events happened so the group can figure out what to do about it.  For example, “Why did this happen?” and “Why is this important?”  These questions are evaluation or investigation questions. 

Third are, “How?” questions.   People meet to accomplish things.  These questions are about how to respond.  A lot of if/then contingency thinking and planning can emerge there.  For example, “How will we react if…?”  “How will we deal with…?”  These questions are about contingency, strategic, and project planning. 

Asking questions is not only an effective way to better communicate and connect with others it is a great way to get a wayward conversation moving in a clear direction.  After all, what color is your house?

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Copyright:   © 2022, Michael E. Fraidenburg. All rights reserved.