FMEA facilitators can generate deep discussion and stimulate creative ideas by asking probing questions.
“A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea.” – John Ciardi
The Oxford English dictionary defines “probe” as “seek to uncover information about something.”
Why should a facilitator ask probing questions?
Asking probing questions is a key facilitation technique. It involves the entire FMEA team, and can be used to encourage participation. See the article Facilitation Skill #1 – Encouraging Participation.
The FMEA facilitator can direct questions to an individual (expert) or the group to stimulate thinking. This facilitation technique is used to open up discussion and to bring it to a deeper level. Avoid “yes” or “no” questions which serve to close off the discussion rather than opening to more creative ideas.
What types of probing questions can be used?
There is no limit to the variety of probing questions that can be asked by FMEA facilitators. Any question that probes or stimulates discussion can be used. Here are a few examples.
- How would you describe the current situation regarding …?
- What has been done in the past regarding …?
- What has worked/not worked regarding …?
- What would have to happen for this problem to be completely solved?
- What do you (a team member) think of (another team member’s) idea?
The key is to get the team thinking and discussing the focus areas.
What is Socratic Questioning?
This portion of the article will explore Socratic Questioning, a technique originally developed and used by Soctrates in teaching. This same technique can be used when leading teams, in order to solicit deeper discussions and critical thinking.
Named for Socrates (ca. 470-399 B. C.), the early Greek philosopher/teacher, a Socratic approach to teaching is based on the practice of disciplined, rigorously thoughtful dialogue. The instructor professes ignorance of the topic under discussion in order to elicit engaged dialogue with students. Socrates was convinced that disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enables the scholar/student to examine ideas logically and to be able to determine the validity of those ideas. Also known as the dialectical approach, this type of questioning can correct misconceptions and lead to reliable knowledge construction. [reference Starting Point Entry Level Geoscience serc.carleton.edu]
Socrates argued for the necessity of probing individual knowledge, and acknowledging what one may not know or understand. Critical thinking has the goal of reflective thinking that focuses on what should be believed or done about a topic.
Socratic questioning adds another level of thought to critical thinking, by focusing on extracting depth, interest and assessing the truth or plausibility of thought. Socrates argued that a lack of knowledge is not bad, but students must strive to make known what they don’t know through the means of a form of critical thinking.
Socratic Questioning can be applied to teams as well as students.
Examples of Socratic Questioning
[Reference website: positivepsyvchology.com/Socratic-questioning]
When used effectively, Socratic questioning is a compelling technique for exploring issues, ideas, and thoughts. It allows misconceptions to be addressed and analyzed at a deeper level than routine questioning.
Examples of different types of Socratic questions
What do you mean when you say X?
Could you explain that point further?
Can you provide an example?
Is there a different point of view?
What assumptions are we making here? Are you saying that… ?
Evidence and reasoning
Can you provide an example that supports what you are saying?
Can we validate that evidence?
Do we have all the information we need?
Are there alternative viewpoints?
How could someone else respond, and why?
Implications and consequences
How would this affect someone?
What are the long-term implications of this?
Challenging the question
What do you think was important about that question?
What would have been a better question to ask?
Probing questions are best used to address areas that need more discussion, and to ensure you are getting balanced involvement by the entire team.
The next article in the FMEA Facilitation series is called Asking Thought-Starter Questions. Not every FMEA team member has a full grasp of the definitions and concepts of FMEA. One way to ensure the team is focusing on the right concepts is to use “thought-starter questions.” Asking for the elements of FMEA in different ways helps the team think deeply, and gets better results.