Practical Tip: Reaching Your Goal Through Questions

From the first meeting until the mentoring year is complete: different kinds of questions accompany the mentoring process. In the beginning questions are being asked to get to know each other better, later on more substantial questions help find one’s own position, analyse personal strengths and weaknesses, solve problems and plan future steps. We hope you enjoy exploring them!.

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“If you want a wise answer, ask a reasonable question”, said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This is true for the TUM Mentoring Programme, too and applies to mentees and mentors alike. This Practical Tip introduces you to questioning techniques that support you in negotiations and in solving specific issues and personal questions.

1. Open questions

Open questions, so-called WH-questions (WHo, WHat, WHen, WHere, WHy, and HoW), stimulate the conversation. Open questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no and you automatically find out more about your conversation partner. They can be used in the getting-to-know-phase, as well as when you want to broaden the scope.

Examples: How have your first days in Munich been? What is your everyday-work/study-day like?Why have you opted for this career step? What do you expect from this decision? How do you experience our cooperation?

2. Closed questions
A closed question aims at a simple yes or no. They are suitable with regard to specific decisions and agreements. They are often combined with other types of questions and are used to close a discussion.

Examples: Is the Monday meeting suitable for you? Should we attend Open Mentoring together? Are you going to apply to XY?

3. Alternative questions
Alternative questions are in between open and closed questions and offer at least two possible responses. Here the options are clearly indicated and a decision is brought about.

Examples: Should we meet in my office or go to a cafe? Would you like an answer until next Monday or is in 2 weeks okay? Do you think field of work X is more interesting than field of work Y?

4. Activating questions
Sometimes the conversation is slowing down, long pauses arise. In this case you can try to revive the conversation through active listening and activating questions. Here, an important factor is to show your counterpart that you are paying attention and are interested. This ranges from clear eye contact, and signals such as nodding or head shakes to activating questions, which should be posed as open questions (see pt. 1).

Examples: What made you reject the position? What was your role on the project? How do you see the development possibilities of XY?

5. Control questions
With control questions you can check if you have understood your conversation partner correctly. At the same time you are giving feedback on what you have gathered from the conversation or how you interpret what has been said.
This way you are indicating you interest in the subject, as well and in the person and promote your tandem relationship.

Examples: have I understood correctly that…. Am I right in assuming that….

6. Scaling questions
On the basis of scaling questions individual assessments, changes and positive developments can be made clear. Scaling questions can help to illustrate subjective sentiments such as happiness, motivation, perception, impressions, feelings and progress. In general a scale of 0 to 10 is being used here, whereas 0 indicates the weakest and 10 the strongest expression.

Examples: On a scale from 0 to 10: How motivated are you? How do you assess the problem concerned on a scale from 0 to 10. What would be required for you to change from a 6 to an 8?

7. Questions for changes of perspective
Sometimes it is helpful to look beyond one’s own nose and to adopt someone else’s perspective in order to understand potential constraints or to simply broaden one’s view. To do so questions leading to a change of perspective are helpful.

Examples: How would your partner answer this question? What would your supervisor say if you suggested XY? How would your colleagues assess the situation? How do you think does your colleague feel in this situation?

8. Paradox questions
Paradox questions aim at bafflement. A situation / task that is perceived to be difficult is being overdrawn in order to generate new ideas and possible solutions. Ask a paradox question and let your conversation partner imagine how a situation is ultimately escalating. This frequently leads to new impulses and a new view of the problem.

Examples: What would you have to do to shipwreck the project? How could you aggravate the problem? How could you be even less motivated to go to work / to university? What would have to happen for your boss to fire you?

9. Hypothetical questions
Hypothetical questions usually target the future and offer the possibility to mentally act out new perspectives and possible solutions. This promotes creativity and stimulates the quest for potential solutions.

Examples: What if you landed the spot on the trainee programme? What does your dream job look like? What would happen if you failed the exam? How would you approach the task if time was not a factor?

Which questioning technique is suitable for you depends on the topic and the context. However, what is always important is a good attentive connection.