Scenario: Poignant Question

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

A particularly poignant question is asked. This is followed by a long silence.

Tags: Action Learning Coach, WIAL Action Learning

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Comments (8)

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    Claire Davidson-Williams

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    If a poignant question is asked, it may be followed by a moment of silence as members internalise their emotions. As coach I will allow that moment of silence and then make a quick intervention to ask: With 1 or 2 words could each members express how that question made you feel? and How could this help to arrive at a breakthrough strategy to help the problem presenter? Ensure that each member responds. These questions should allow members to briefly express emotions and without dwelling on the negative, move forward using it as a learning opportunity.

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    Andre Phillip

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    I would use this situation as a learning opportunity for the group to develop their competence in emotional intelligence, by intervening with my observation immediately followed on by a question; “I have observed that the team has gone silent after the last question was asked”… How did this question make you feel? (Allowing everyone to share). Once all members have shared, I will then guide the team to continue working by asking “Who has the next question?”

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    Tomasz Janiak

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    Wait for the reaction. If necessary:
    1. 3 standard Qs
    2 How thoughtful are we of each other’s emotions?
    3 Why is it important?
    4 How shall we ensure it?

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    Pamela Houghton

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    I agree that sometimes we need additional time to internally process poignant questions or responses. There may or may not be strong emotions at play. If a member of the group doesn’t ask about the silence, and depending on what was specifically asked, I might first intervene by asking how the question could be asked differently. If silence is the result again, I would intervene with my observation and ask the group what is preventing their response to the question.

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    Gilda Salud

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    As an Action Learning Coach, I should be comfortable with a momentary silence of the Team. I will wait for one to two minutes of silence as it may either mean that the team members are reflecting on the question or something critical/sensitive has been touched. I would intervene by saying:

    1) Team, it seems like there was silence when a certain was asked regarding (cite the specific question asked). Is this where we are now? (ie. wait for responses from the team members)

    2) If the responses are “yes”, I will ask: “So team, what stopped you from answering that question? (i.e. wait for responses again). I will continue by saying: “What will happen if we continue to be silent?” (i.e. wait for responses again).

    3) What do you suggest we do to move forward in our discussion? (i.e. wait for responses again)

    4) Now, who has the next question?

    As an AL Coach, I will be observing the group dynamics, body language, facial expression, etc. of the team members, to determine what my next intervention will be.

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    ina.b.teves

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    1) Respect the team’s process by allowing the silence to happen. It is a learning opportunity for the team: to understand and respect its own process and to learn to clinically observe its own processes.
    2) Manage my own desire to expedite the process of solving the problem by keeping a neutral disposition and by being comfortable with the silence myself.
    3) Then, I would say, “Team X minutes ago, a question was asked. What is happening?” The intervention has to be broad to allow the team leeway to enter into the process of discovery safely. Also, this would allow the coach to discover in an unintrusive way about the relationships within the team and the issues that are at the heart of the team.
    4) The team may not immediately answer the question. I have to check my own perception by minding the clock. If the team still does not answer, to me this would signify that the question is of great importance and if left unanswered, the team might not effectively reach consensus, much less come to an agreement on solutions and actions to commit to. I would thus let the silence continue for another 5 minutes before asking again, what is happening. This time, I will intentionally make eye contact with each team member. For some, the eye contact might be the door one member needs to enter into conversation about what is happening. I could then ask if others share the same observation as the team member who spoke. Then we could proceed from there to the three standard questions and on to, “who has the next question.”
    5) During the debrief, we could talk about the way each one practiced their leadership skill with regards to the silence. We also will ask what have they learned about silence in group discussions and how they might apply these learnings to their units and to their organizations.
    6) While it is possible that the way the question was phrased triggered the silence, the coach needs to take care that the team does not self-censor and ask only comfortable questions. Otherwise, the team will miss the opportunity to explore the deeper layers of a problem and how it has come to affect group communications and thus, group problem solving. Second, the team needs to learn a healthy respect for facts — including emotional facts: the poignant question, the silent response. Healthy respect means they should be able to name it, so that they could work on it, so that they could be more effective as a team.

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    Irene Chia

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    Silence in itself is a learning. As the coach, I will not jump in but remain comfortable with the silence. I will have the team take the next step and use this as a learning point of discussion subsequently by asking:
    1) Team, what do you notice happened after the poignant question was posed?
    (Members may raise about the silence and so and so responded)
    2) What is the impact on the team?
    3) What can we learn from this that will help us back at work?

    If the silence goes beyond 15 minutes, I will ask:
    1) Team, it has been 15 minutes of silence since the last question, what is keeping the team from speaking up?
    2) What is the next question that will move the team forward?

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    DrBea

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    Interesting all the folks that read emotion into this but I will clearly need to add more words for clarity.

    The poignant question was a great question that really made the team stop and think. It was one of those questions that brought the entire team to a deeper level of understanding about the problem. After their reflective pause they moved back to the problem solving with great gusto. The pause in reality was less than a minute but after 10 seconds you start to wonder if you should do something to move them along.

    Given this further description – What would you do?

    I would do nothing but note the great question. During the next check-in I would likely use it to ask – Have we had any really great questions? If no one recalled it, I would have my note to say – How about when “…” was asked? What made it a great questions? How can we ask even more great questions?

    Happy Coaching
    Bea

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