Scenario: Limiting Choice

As an Action Learning Coach how would you handle the following situation:

Someone asks an open question, then follows it with a couple choices for the response.

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Comments (10)

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    Emma O.

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    Interesting question. My response and timing would depend on the conversation. First, it could be that this is a clarifying question. Although options aren’t the best way to ask a question, most people in today’s society will answer a closed question as if it were an open question. Likewise, most people would create option C when presented with options A and B if they didn’t like them. If it were a clarifying set of questions and the respondent wasn’t hampered by the question, I would likely let it go until the end of the conversation when we talked about the quality of our questions and conversation. If the group didn’t mention it, I would use it as a teaching point.

    Conversely, if there is a power differential at the table and the questioner with the options is higher than the respondent and I sense the respondent is hampered by the question, I might lean forward and ask how the questioner might ask the question in a more broad way, allowing for the respondent to have more full freedom in answering. Or if the respondent muddles through, I might use it as a teachable moment during a “break in” teaching moment during the conversation.

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    Kelly Gough

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    I agree with Emma – if the responses provided were not too leading (i.e. obviously having an impact on how the respondent would answer) and they are just to clarify the question I would let this run, it also depends on the quality of the open question in the first instance as to whether the additional comments were needed for elaboration.

    If the responses provided were obviously going to shape the answer, I would intervene and ask the person doing questioning “what is your question” hopefully this will help them come to the conclusion that they have given too many options. All else failing, a good point to discuss at the debrief of the session around giving people the opportunity to respond with their own ideas rather than coaching them by asking the group “what is the quality of the response you recieve when you coach the questioner by giving them options of a particular answer”.

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    Bonita Lee-Shew

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    My thoughts are that it depends on how far the group is in the process. It is possible that if this scenario occurs late in the process, that the questioner is attempting to gain group consensus on an issue that has been discussed and a number of choices already are on the table. If this is the case I would allow the discussion to continue. However if the group responses indicate that their thinking is being limited or constrained by the nature of the question I would also do as Kelly has suggested and ask the questioner “Mr X what is your question?”

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    Brendan Allen

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    The way I would handle the situation depends largely on context. I would consider intervening to highlight a learning opportunity or I would address it later at a review point. I think the key question I would be likely to use is ‘What are the consequences on the group problem solving process of asking an open question and then providing choices for response? (and I might make up an example to work with). This gives the group an opportunity to identify both negative and positive aspects of the behaviour.

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    Carole

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    Hi,

    I like Brendan’s way of helping the group see the consequences of the behavior.

    Bonita also raises an interesting point about the questioner looking to gain consensus by posing the choices.

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    Ann Boyum

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    I agree with Brendon & Bonita’s approach and where they are in the process. Depending on how the group responded to the set-up question/options, I might ask “where are we in the problem solving process?” sometimes, the group is moving toward convergence before they’ve really landed on the criteria for providing options. I’ve seen lists of ideas and the group is feeling really productive, but they’ve not done the really BIG work of deciding how to decide.

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    Gil Flori

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    I agree with Bonita – I think it depends on what stage the process is at. If it is appropriate that the group starts to converge towards specific actions, I would let the discussion flow. If however it was earlier and seemed to be steering the group in a particular direction before the issue had been fully explored, I would look at putting a question to the group about the impact of providing possible solutions to the question we are asking. It may be also that the group is quite experienced and self-regulate at the time or are not constrained by the question and immediately open the topic back up. If this is the case, I may leave this issue but review later as a learning opportunity

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    DrBea

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    Great answers! There is little I can add. It would depending where we were in the process – if it’s the converging stage – then this types of questions are useful and I would let it flow.

    If it is early on, as other have said, after the 3 standard questions, assuming noone mentioned it –
    I’ve observed some great open questions, that are then followed by choices. Has anyone else noticed this?
    What’s the impact on our problem solving when choices are limited?
    How do we want to handle this?
    Why is it important that we be succinct and just pose the question we have to the team?

    Happy Coaching
    Bea

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    Chjames

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    Particularly early on the group’s experience with this process, they often don’t know recognize yet in the moment that they have just turned an orginally open question into a closed one by offering choices. If I saw a pattern emerge, I might ask, “What is the nature of the question I’m asking you, open or closed?” Hopefully they would appreciate a little humor, but more so it might help clarify the difference between the two.

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    David Troupe

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    I might choose to not intervene. Instead, I would make a note and ask a question in the debriefing period that sounds like, “Remember when Mike asked the open question, then gave a couple choices to choose from? What might have happened if he simply asked the question without the choices?” Regardless of the context, the responses would be enlightening.

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