The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.
Stop and think for a moment about the last workshop you attended. What did people learn about you? Did they learn about your work habits? Or did they learn about you favourite sports team? (Liverpool Football Club, if you want to know mine). As I sat planning out an agenda for an upcoming course I’m delivering, I realized I wanted to get the participants to KNOW each other well, not just know each other. How do I do that? Because invariably, by the time I am done a workshop, I know everyone’s favourite sports team, their preferred drink, whether they play a musical instrument, and all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the workshop.
I don’t know how I do it. I don’t focus on asking specific questions, but somehow I acquire this information. But that’s a bit problematic if I’m trying to teach someone how to facilitate a workshop, because I need to be able to help others do the same thing!
Yesterday, I helped Gail at a craft show, selling her most remarkable mittens. Within 10 minutes, I’d sold 3 pairs of mittens and knew the life story of the folks I’d sold to! Gail asked me point blank how I did it…how did I learn this information? I had to think hard but here’s what I came up with:
- I make eye contact immediately, and hold it, so people know I appreciate their inherent value.
- I look at their clothes, their shoes, their hands, the way they hold their head, and I draw some conclusions about what is important to them.
- Then, I ask questions! Lots of questions! About all sorts of things. I listen to the answers. And I offer my own ideas, so we both get to know each other.
- Once we both know each other, it becomes easier for them to decide to buy a pair of mittens from me, or equally easy to explain why mittens are not on the shopping list today. But either way, we part with valuable information about one another.
In a workshop or course setting, I do the same thing. I make eye contact with everyone, even before the workshop starts. Then I draw conclusions about what is important to different individuals. If someone has a Burton jacket, perhaps they like to snowboard. If someone has a horse head on her keychain, perhaps she rides horses. Then I start to ask questions, before and during the workshop. And I listen. To everything. And I share information about myself as well.
This works for me. It won’t work for everyone. But by digging a bit deeper, we can find more common ground and shared pathways to workshop and course success.
Oh, and to craft show success. We sold 16 pairs of mittens yesterday!!!