Archive for the ‘Questioning’ Category

Want better questions? Practice the “play the metaphor” exercise

July 28th, 2011 Kevin No comments

What’s this blog about?

The title refers to an exercise that will help you explore the metaphors that people use. The exercise encourages you to create questions that¬† “play” with the language and imagery of their metaphors.

I don’t understand; what do you mean?

An example might be best.

What’s your example?

A friend recently used the term “path” to represent some work in life she is doing.

Okay, so what happened next?

Here’s the gist of what happened next, in the form of the dialogue we had as I remember it:

Q: When you mention “path,” what do you mean?

A: You know, path. Like, a path I am on and moving forward on in my life.

Q: Okay, is there a place you are heading to on it?

A: Sort of… no, not really.

Q: Is there some distance you are traveling on the path?

A: No. It’s not that way.

Q: And it is a path?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Can you gesture for me what you mean?

A: Ummmm, yes; its, you know… a “path.” [Extended gesture with hands moving up in the air].

What gesture did she use to show you what “path” meant for her?

Good question! The gesture she use was two hands that start in a clapping position and then swoop up and out to the sky. I have use this gesture to mean “flowering” or “open,” not so much for “path.”

But she did, so that’s exactly what path meant to her at that time, right?


Did it mean something else?

Yes. She also realized it was referring to the outpouring from a deep well. So for her, it is both a path and a gushing well. Pretty exciting stuff.

So this is how we “play” with metaphors; we ask questions to better understand them?


That’s it?

Well, there’s lots more. Metaphors burst out of the right side of the brain for most of us, they can be hard to tease out, and people are not always ready to share them. Ask with care, kindness and love.

Anything else?

Yes; exploring the imagery and sounds and emotions of the metaphor will help. Tying the metaphor to current conditions is important too. Making sure the metaphor makes sense for the person is key.

Is that it?

No. Metaphors are critical since they frame our references and inform our lives. We live with and by them. To avoid another “anything else” question, I’ll simply list some resources for you to learn more:

George Lakoff, professor and author, read his books or catch videos of him on You Tube

Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers, by Gerald and Lindsay  Zaltman; a great book that extends beyond marketing stuff

David Grove, creator of the Clean Language concept, read his work on line

William Shakespeare, for example, “the world is a stage”

Jesus, parables are extended metaphors used to help teach, like the parable of the mustard seed

Maya Angelou, her poetry is genius, filled with heart, image, and haunting beauty, so is the metaphor she borrowed for her book titled: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

Thank you… this is a great start.

You are welcome!

Kevin Leahy, founder

Knowledge Advocate, LLC

Comments about metaphors? Let me know:

Categories: Consulting, Questioning Tags:

Want to question better? Wonder more. Here’s a game that helps you do that.

July 23rd, 2011 Kevin No comments

What’s this post about?

This post is about becoming a better questioner. Here’s the point: before you ask your next question, play a little game and guess what it is you don’t know that the other person might. Do this instead of predicting what his answer will be. It will work wonders, I promise.

How do I become a better questioner?

Start by questioning with wonder. After we turn six or so, many of us begin to predict what others will say in advance, and then we can forget to wonder about what we don’t know that they do know. Oy.

Are you saying that every time I ask a question, I predict what I’ll hear in advance?

That’s one way of looking at it. It might not be that cut and dry, although that’s the gist. Another way to look at it is that people who predict the answer in advance judge more and are curious less.

So what can I do about it?

You can play a little game next time you ask questions.

What game will help me question better?

It’s the game I mentioned above. Before you ask your next question, guess what it is you don’t know instead of guessing what the answer will be. This game will help you learn more and judge less.

So, I guess what I don’t know before asking my question and then I question better?


Why does this work?

The game makes sure you remain curious — in a state of wonder — and far more open to what you’re about to hear. The other person will feel better when this happens since you are honoring his answer.

Okay, thanks!

You’re welcome.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Kevin Leahy, founder

Knowledge Advocate, LLC

Categories: Questioning Tags:

Trouble finding the right career? Answer this question.

May 31st, 2011 Kevin No comments

If you or someone you know is in a career changing mood, ask him or her to answer this question:

Imagine all technology is gone and thankfully, the essentials like hunting and child raising are met– for what reasons do you sense, and do the people you live with know, you are very important to have around and they are really appreciative you are there with them too?

It’s a question many people answer right away and some take more time to process it before answering.

What comes up for people is often their core essence– a calling to what they are here to do.

When the answers arrive, I see lots of smiles, cheeks high with relief, as an audible sigh escapes and a calm knowing happens. Those feelings really help a person seeking a new career set his or her compass straight.

Good luck helping folks find their true passion and vocation with this question.

Kevin Leahy, founder

Knowledge Advocate, LLC

Categories: Questioning Tags:

A rather big question that can replace, “Hey, how are you?”

May 18th, 2011 Kevin No comments

Here’s a rather big question that arose yesterday during a discussion about critical life skills:

What are the three things we can practice every day, day in and day out, that will forever change the way we live in ways that are far better than right now for us?

Imagine if the spirit of this rather big question replaced the common greeting: “Hey, how are you?

For example, imagine if we greeted each other with: “How’s your big three coming along?”

Here’s a follow up question:

Are we acting on our answer right now and planning to do so later on today and tomorrow?

Here’s the last question:

Do we speak or act in ways that share the answer we came up with at work or elsewhere?

Here’s the gist of what I’ve heard so far:

1) love something far bigger than yourself (this can relate to quality of life issues);

2) love yourself (this can relate to learning and growing);

3) Share your love with everyone you can, including the whole world if that works for you
(this can relate to contribution and relatedness with others).

If you would like please share your answers with me here:

Thank you!

Kevin Leahy
Categories: Questioning, Thoughts Tags:

Good question to ask: how do you handle being puzzled?

February 10th, 2011 Kevin No comments

Here is a fun, out-of-the-box question. Try it first on yourself and then with others. The question is:

How do you handle being puzzled?

What’s the point of the question?

“Being puzzled” means different things for different people. Once you sort through those differences, the essence of being puzzled, its gist, is an uncertainty about something. How we handle that is interesting.

Say some more?

How we handle “being puzzled” demonstrates how we face and master change, shows how we connect things we already know together, and indicates how we deal with brand new, never-experienced stuff.

Can you summarize the point of this post for me?

Sure: ask folks how they handle being puzzled, it will clue you in on how they learn stuff and manage change. The answer will come in real handy if you need them to learn new things and take on change any time soon.

Good luck!

Categories: Brain power, Questioning Tags:

“Who do you help the most?”

February 3rd, 2011 Kevin No comments

Great questioners ask hard questions: the ones we don’t hear too often and the ones that place us a distance between safety (haven’t thought of this question before) and challenge (I’m feeling anxious now).

“Who do you help the most?”: great for cocktail parties, plane trips, and job interviews.

The question invokes our social brain (we are wired to need each other) as well as a WIIFM (what’s in it for me) approach to life. Helping others often helps us so it is a nice equation to explore: how do you help?

For what reasons is the question both challenging and safe too?

The focus on “who” helps with that. We form stories around people and love to reflect on what we do for them and why it matters to them and us. Beginning with who gets our social neurons fired up right away.

What about the “you,” why is that valuable?

Bringing you and who together so quickly hints at a relationship and a need between people. The person hearing the question senses they must call up a person or group to connect with his or her own efforts.

Speak more about “efforts,” how do you know they are anticipating a question about effort?

Intuitively, we know the rules of grammar and the next thing to follow after “you” will almost always be a verb. Because we love to predict what comes next, we will start to predict what verb may come next.

And “help,” seems like a soft verb without much definition: help with what, when and why?

Asking about help is the true beauty of the question. Open ended, “help” calls up a flurry of brain activity as the person scours experiences for times they helped others or how they helped, before answering.

Finally, you include “the most,” is such a distinction possible?

Who knows until you ask, right? And the fact that you ask and make it categorical at the end ratchets up the challenge, doesn’t it? Use of the category makes them respond with feeling as well as rational thought.

You really think this question is a great one?

Yes, one of the all time best. When you ask it, do it with your best, most wonderful body-language and non-verbal cues. Soften your tone, raise eyebrows in an arc, breathe slowly, give the right personal space.

Good luck!

Categories: Questioning Tags:

The power of wondering and pondering in business

November 29th, 2010 Kevin No comments

Wonder and Ponder in Business Models

There are many models that describe how business works. There is the Deming cycle (plan, do, check, act); Lean; Agile; Benchmarking; Just in Time; Theory of Constraints; Total Quality Management; Six Sigma; Voice of Customer; the list continues.

Two verbs underlie all business models: wonder and ponder.

Wondering and pondering underlie all business cycles?

Yes. Our ability to wonder and ponder as we plan and act is critical for our business success. Improving our business efforts demands a comparison: wondering and pondering provide it.

Say some more?

One of the unique things that separates humans from other animals is our pre-frontal cortex. It’s that part that lets us wonder before we act and ponder as we act and after we act too.

Can you put wondering and pondering in the context of business models?

Sure. Most business models create a plan as the first step.


The process of creating a plan deserves to be full of wonder, in a word, wonderful. Here are some wonder-full questions:

Where are we?

Where do we need to go?

How will we get there, with what, and when?

When and how will we check in on our progress?

How will we know we’ve arrived?

That’s planning. The next step in many models involves analyzing the pros and cons.


The act of analyzing prevents failure and promotes success. This step deserves to be “ponderful,” or full of ponder. Here are a few ponder-full questions:

What benefits will the plan provide?

What outcomes will it deliver?

Have similar plans been successful?

Have similar plans failed?

What are the plan’s strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities?

What assumptions have we made?

After planning and analyzing, most business models encourage that we take action.


As we take action our efforts benefit from an intact sense of wonder and willingness to ponder. We keep track of what is happening and what to make of it. Here are a few questions:

What’s happening right now?

What affect does it have?

What’s working?

What needs to stop?

What questions go unanswered?

What must get answered as we go on?

What results are we getting?

What do they mean?

After we take action, we leave room for feedback and follow up. There are many different terms for this stage, although “review” works as well as most of them.


During the review stage we ask questions filled with wonder to help our team imagine how we can refine efforts and make success happen. Here are a few wonder-full review questions:

How will we compile the results we have so far?

What are our learning points?

What will we reframe or reappraise?

What stays the same?

What has caused uncertainty?

What obstacles showed up?

How can we manage things better?

Who else needs to be involved?

What will benefit from further consideration?

What can we use to benchmark our performance?

What new targets are obtainable; which ones are a stretch?

After the review period, most business models have one final step: improve efforts!


To improve we must bring all the power of pondering into focus. We can benchmark our progress and consider what we need to change. Here are some questions:

What is our standard for performance?

What are we comparing our level of performance with or to?

What room for improvement stands out?

What training will improve our results?

What knowledge needs to flow better?

What management steps will lead to further success?

Where can we loosen control to increase efficiencies?

What new definitions and rules will help existing processes?

What new processes will work better?

Is the structure we have chosen working well?


The good news is that organized business models bring solid benefits. Here are a few of them:

get team members on the same page;

focus on the customer;

improve efficiencies;

save time and money;

avoid reinventing things;

access out-of-the-box thinking;

make change an active part of the business cycle;

stretch and modify goals;

honor the roll of urgency in successful business outcomes.

Whichever business model you use, wonder and ponder how it works for you!

Categories: Consulting, Questioning Tags:

Blind reliance on individual memory can really mess with a company’s outcomes

August 14th, 2010 Kevin 2 comments

We make memory mistakes all the time. Modernly, it’s gotten really bad because our memories simply cannot keep up with all that we now see, hear, and experience. One researcher notes that it is incredible we remember anything accurately at all! Here is the kicker, we personally are hard wired to believe our own memories are accurate, true and sound. Yikes!

So what are we supposed to do?

OK. If you agree with me that our individual memories really stink, what can we do about it? How can we stop the inaccuracies of our individual memories from messing with our corporate minds and outcomes? Let’s think some about that.

Before you get me thinking, mind telling what the point of this post is?

Sure. This post is about well-intentioned individuals who have faulty, wacky memories and the clear instruction that they should never rely on their memories as proof for any outcome when more than one person shares responsibility in the outcome. When people invoke their memories and recollection as true and accurate, they can really mess with the best available outcomes for their companies.

How so?

If a person relies on his or her own memory (which by nature fills in gaps poorly and makes stuff up), that reliance may cause them to ignore other resources available to them, like the recall and memories of others or the software and data systems that companies buy to help retain information and reuse it.

Is there science behind these claims about faulty memories?

Of course. Researchers identify over three dozens ways each of us fill in gaps in our memories to fill out what we believe is true. They call these “memory biases,” and prove we all have them. These memory oddities exist to make us feel better about what we know and help us understand things on our terms and in our best light.

Can you give us an example?

Sure, “I knew that was going to happen!” Heard that one before? When we say it of course it is true. When others say it, we say, “Yeah… right.” What I am saying is that we swear we knew it would happen when it happens to us, and at the same time make fun of others when they do it. This particular bias is called “hindsight bias” and it happens to all of us, all the time.

Is it a control thing?

You betcha. That is exactly what it is. To keep control of how we personally sense things, and to ensure we don’t freak out all the time, our brains help us out by letting us fill in gaps of information in a way that helps us make sense of it. In other words, our memory system helps us make sense of things regardless of the impact our gap filling ways have on others.

Are you saying that individual memories can be bad for the company?

Exactly right! When it comes to individual memories, blind reliance on them without a reality check can have terrible and sometimes fatal business impact. Because we are all prone to recall error, relying heavily on what we can remember to make company decisions can mess with the best available company outcomes.

So what’s the decision maker with the goofball memory supposed to do?

Easy; ask around. Check in on the pulse of what others believe. Experience first hand their own faulty recall. Put enough different recollections together and hone in on what the facts truly are. This kind of inquiry will help a decision maker get a sense of how others recall and see things, and gauge what to do based on all the best available information.

So, what’s the outcome of all this?

The outcome of acknowledging our own faulty memories is a clear mandate to call upon others to make sure we have a well-rounded awareness of the facts. Doing this instead of relying on the one memory system we are hard wired to trust most can produce staggeringly better business results.

Give it a try, let me know how it goes!

Categories: Brain power, People, Questioning Tags:

Receive any QNAs (questions not answered) lately?

August 13th, 2010 Kevin No comments

QNA stands for “question not answered.” Have you had any happen to you lately?

Can you give an example of one?

Sure. Question: “How’s John doing on the project?” Answer: “The thing is, we didn’t set things up as well as we could at the start.” That response answer’s another question (asked to themselves, such as, is there a reason John is doing poorly, or, how did John get assigned to the project). That second question shows up in the person’s head, maybe triggered by the first question (in this example, the question about how John is doing). Because the second (never vocalized!) question gets answered, the person who asked about John (1) doesn’t know exactly where the answer came from, and (2) still doesn’t have an answer to his or her first question!

For what reasons do questions go unanswered?

I don’t know! You don’t know. Often, the person answering does not know! More importantly, when we fail to follow up… we may never know the answer.

Do you have a process for how to deal with QNAs?

Yes. Here it is:

First, know QNAs happen. You might even add the idea to your frame of reference, “Is that a QNA?”, next time someone does not answer the question you asked.

Second, do something about them. You have options when a QNA shows up. For example, be persistent with the question you did ask, focus on it until you get it answered. Or, go with the flow a bit and remember in your short term memory that you still did not get that question answered (harder to do and easier to deal with from the other person’s perspective). Another tactic is to set the stage for the question a little better by asking questions in and around the one you need answered. Another way to get at the answer is to ask a different and similar question that gets close to what the answer may be.

Third, let whatever happens happen (i.e., don’t get mad at QNAers!). Frequently, people will still not answer a QNA. No surprise really because that’s why they did not answer it in the first place. That’s ok. At least you tried!

Is there an outcome to knowing about QNAs?

Yes, there is. It turns out, if you actively pursue QNAs, and get good at it, they happen less. Explaining for what reasons that happens would remove some of the magic. So instead, just try it for yourself and see what happens!

Challenge the next QNA you hear. Let me know how it goes!

Categories: Questioning Tags:

Is anyone listening?

July 20th, 2010 Kevin No comments

Has this happened to you: you share how you experience things and nothing registers with the other person, no one seems to be home?

What’s happening?

This situation can be exasperating, true? Why doesn’t the person care to listen? Why doesn’t he or she just “get it”?

More to the point: what can you do about it?

Next time ask: “Would you like to hear how I make sense of it?”

Why this question?

Asking the other person if he or she wants to know how you make sense of things clears the air. If the other person says “No,” or looks away, or disregards the question, then you know he or she is not interested in your viewpoint. Right then you can stop trying to make sense.

Stop making sense, are you crazy?

Whoa…. I am not asking you to stop making sense completely! Rather, next time just refrain from offering your sense when the other person makes clear they don’t want to hear it. mostly, repetitive sense making in non-receptive ears goes in one and out the other. Nothing sticks and you might get a sore throat!

Then what can you do?

Well, you can stop talking altogether as you maintain a positive attitude and energy level. You can offer something like, “We can revisit this later.” Alternatively, you can persistently inquire how he or she makes sense of the subject and connect what he or she says with what you sense about things.

What should you not do when people don’t seem to be listening?

Whatever you do, do not share your sense of things once the other person makes it clear he or she doesn’t care to hear it. They might be listening for other things, and you can explore those, they just don’t care in that particular moment to hear how you make sense of things. If that is the case, then give the conversation some patience, try a different tact, and over time see what happens.

Let me know how it goes!

Categories: Learning, People, Questioning Tags: