After reading Chapter 6, write one sentence that
answers the questions who, when, where, how, and why regarding one
technique helpful in organizational change.Looking for one sentence from the above instructions please
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CHAPTER 6 Techniques and Tools
In this chapter a number of techniques are discussed that have proven to be helpful in organizational
change. Subsequently, the followed issues are discussed:
• Asking questions, reflecting, and questioning techniques
• Solution-oriented coaching
• Feedback rules
• Discussion of progress
• Moments of awareness
• Leary’s rose
• Thinking of nothing in particular
• Giving ourselves assignments, setting personal goals
• Starting up ‘slow brain processes’
• Really seeing somebody
• Delegating alternatives
• Helping creativity
ASKING QUESTIONS AND REFLECTING
Asking questions seems to be one of the easiest things to do, yet it is actually surprising how seldom
questions are used well. Asking questions can mean asking other people questions as well as asking
ourselves questions. The latter is a standard part of reflection. In addition, there is self-reflection; that is,
asking ourselves questions about ourselves. This section examines all three kinds of questioning, as all
three are crucial in dialogue and essential for leaders and change agents.
A question is here taken as a piece of equipment. A question enables us to focus our attention on
something that doesn’t demand our attention by itself, even on something that is at that moment still
unknown to us. Questioning is playing with the searchlight of our mind. By asking a question, for the
moment we suspend our existing knowledge and create a temporary mental void. This void provides
room for something new, an answer, which can come to the fore now. This answer then can become a
subject for further questions.
A question brings about a response that, at least in its effect, is related to the ‘novelty response’, a
somewhat more sophisticated form of the orienting or novelty response (see Chapter 3). The
relationship to the novelty response lies in the fact that both the novelty response and a question can
bring about a sense of wonder or surprise, which is, according to Plato
(http://classics.mit/edu/Plato/theatu.html) and Aristotle (1941), the starting point of all philosophy.
When we are asked a question our activities come to a standstill: our speaking and thinking stop, our
mind becomes empty and silent for a moment, and in this silent emptiness an answer can make its entry
(cf. Verhoeven, 1967, p. 42).
There are questions of different kinds and measures. There are small questions, precision instruments
for the square millimeter. There are also high-powered tools. With these questions we can undermine
any established order or truth, shed light on unwelcome inevitabilities, as well as make pleasant illusions
and castles in the air disappear. Injudicious use, of course, can cause significant damage: questioning is a
very radical activity.
Questioning requires a strange kind of craftsmanship, a combination of much skill and admitting that we
don’t know something. Admitting that we don’t know something is often felt to be risky. This feeling of
risk is one reason we do not make optimal use of questioning. We must feel safe enough to expose that
lack of knowledge. This feeling of safety implies that questioning presupposes some combination of
trust, self-confidence and sometimes even courage; that is, we should at least not be ruled by anxiety or
fear. A somewhat higher-powered position in which we feel completely comfortable may be helpful in
this respect. Asking questions is a very effective leadership tool. ‘What are you going to do about …?
What do you need for that? What are the pitfalls? How do you going to deal with them? What would
have been of help? How can things be done even better?’ And so on. Questions are an excellent way to
steer someone’s behavior without giving any order or command. The point is that we are already the
leader and the other person must do the job in any case. By asking questions we can steer the other to
do a better job by directing their problem-solving qualities and creativity.
Another point is that a question presupposes another person with an own perspective who can throw
light on the matter in question. Reflection then presupposes a self that consists of at least two sub-
persons. The fact that reflection works rather well implies a convincing demonstration of the divided
character of our self.
Asking ourselves questions gives rise to a form of internal dialogue, in which we take turns asking
questions and giving answers. The strange thing about reflection is that we apparently can learn
something ‘new’ from it. At the same time, however, we knew the answer already, even though we
didn’t know we knew the answer. Or more precisely: we knew the answer, but we didn’t apply the
information inherent in the answer to the situation in which we are using that information now. In the
present situation, however, the answer can make a difference: the answer can lead to peace or
turbulence, to really new ideas and even to spectacular innovations.
Essentially, self-reflection is a way to integrate ourselves. Self-reflection – that is, reflecting about
ourselves or asking ourselves questions about ourselves – is concerned with connecting our different
attitudes and positions with each other. We have assumed and developed these attitudes in the
different situations to which these attitudes belong, or better: the different situations that these
attitudes helped, and still help, to bring about. As these attitudes each occur in different situations,
these different attitudes live separate lives and are not likely to ‘meet’ each other. What we do in selfreflection is bringing such a meeting about after all: we intentionally relate the different attitudes to
each other. In this way, self-reflection helps us to integrate these different attitudes and to become
more and more who we are. This is part of a creative process with an open end, whose success fully
depends on two virtues: honesty and courage. Self-reflection is concerned with facing the truth such as
it enfolds from the connection of two attitudes. The next step then consists of acting based on that
truth. Both steps in principle imply that we are living in the here and now and add to our self-esteem
(Branden, 1987). This integration can go on as long as we live, or at least as long we care and pay
A last remark about questioning ourselves: when we ask ourselves a question, there is always more than
one possible answer. Honor that and find different answers to your questions. It is a good Indian custom
to give at least six answers (Stone, 1997), preferably even seven; that is, when the question allows this.
Seven is namely the maximum number of items that most of us can comfortably keep in our short-term
memory at the same time. Subsequently, put all these answers in a story that does justice to the
richness of your reality.
This section gives a short overview of common interview techniques. These techniques are for the most
part applicable in interviews as well as in reflection. Even when one is an experienced interviewer, it can
be quite enlightening to use these techniques on oneself to reflect.
Good interviewing most of the time involves that we begin with an open question – that is, a question
that cannot be answered in a meaningful way by yes or no – and get deeper into the matter
subsequently, for example with the help of probing (see below). Open questions often begin with:
• in or to what degree
• why, and so on
A closed question is a question that can be answered in a meaningful way by yes or no. For example:
‘Are you angry?’, ‘Do you understand what I say?’, ‘Do you have a moment?’ and so on.
A suggestive or leading question is a question that indicates what answer the questioner expects or
wants to hear. For example: ‘Don’t you want to say that …?’, ‘Don’t you find also that …?’, ‘But aren’t
you of the opinion that …?’.
Suggestive questions are primarily intended to influence someone’s answers. As such, they usually are
undesirable when we are purely gathering information. In a way it can be defended that every question
is to a degree suggestive, but here we only aim at ‘too’ suggestive questions.
Some questions can contain rather blatant presuppositions. Presuppositions are especially intended to
let somebody commit themselves or to corner someone. For example: ‘How many times a year do you
beat up your partner?’ Or, when nothing is actually sold yet: ‘Are you paying cash or with a credit card?’
This kind of question is usually undesirable in the case of pure information gathering.
The last question (‘Are you paying cash or with a credit card?’) is also a double-barreled question; that
is, a question that is worded in terms of ‘either … or …’ and thus suggests that there are only two
possible answers. In the case of information gathering, a double-barreled question is not a good
question, as it deprives the respondent of other answering possibilities.
Probing is a basic technique. Probing implies that we, based on the answer, are asking for explanation
and clarification. Examples are:
• ‘How do you mean that?’, preceded or not by a short summary of the answer.
• Repeating a single word – here called X – from the answer: ‘X?’, possibly followed by: ‘What do you
mean by that?’
• ‘You say that it is X. What exactly is so X about that?’
• ‘And further?’
• Phrases such as: ‘Can you tell me more about that?’, ‘Please, elaborate that somewhat’ or ‘Can you
explain that a little more?’
Paying attention, or active listening, is important for maintaining contact. This is concerned with
‘rapport’ or ‘being with’ somebody. In a talk with another person, paying attention implies, among other
things, that we:
• Are sufficiently oriented toward the other person (not turned away, neither with our body, nor our
• Look sufficiently at the other person.
• Show understanding, for example by nodding now and then, when appropriate.
• Say ‘Hmm’ in agreement, but not too often and certainly not too mechanically.
• Show understanding by asking relevant questions and saying things that correspond with what the
respondent is saying.
• Synchronize our behavior with that of the other person and now and then match the other person’s
behavior, which – when all is well – actually happens by itself.
In self-reflection, the bodily manifestations of paying attention are of course not applicable. Because
self-reflection is less bound by the usual conversation rules, it is relatively easy to stray from its path.
After all, there is nobody else besides ourselves to keep us on the right track. When we actually stray,
we must go back to our last question, and from time to time we even have to start all over again.
Though staying on track is initially a matter of some self-discipline, it will gradually become easier.
Paying attention is essentially a technique for keeping the respondent involved. Sometimes this may not
be enough and we have to spell things out more. Examples of more explicitly keeping the respondent
• ‘OK, I just want to examine … somewhat more.’
• ‘We were talking about …’
• ‘Let’s go back a little, you said …’
We can preface the sentences above by a short conclusive summary – a single sentence – of the subject
the respondent was talking about: ‘You tell me that …, but now …’ Keep in mind that a conclusive
summary is characterized by lowering the pitch of the voice at the end of the summary.
This technique is of course also relevant in self-reflection. Here too, the respondent tends to become
evasive and avoidant when certain subjects come up, and here too we should prevent ourselves from
Besides probing and paying attention, there are more techniques for thoroughly unraveling an issue.
Mirroring refers to representing in our own words – thus not literally repeating! – the answers of the
other person with a questioning intonation; that is, with a rising voice at the end of the last sentence.
This is a powerful technique, which shows understanding and acknowledgment. Mirroring is often
appreciated by the respondent. A necessary condition for this is of course that we represent the
respondent’s answer properly and don’t put words into their mouth. Examples are:
• ‘So you mean that …?’
• ‘Thus essentially you are saying that …?’
You may be surprised how instructive mirroring can be in the case of self-reflection. It is comparable to
reading your own written text to somebody else, which makes you aware of a lot of errors, omissions
and other shortcomings in that text. Or even better, having it read to you by someone else.
Summarizing implies that we formulate the essence of an answer. We can do this to examine whether
we have properly understood the answer. A good summary evokes agreement and possibly a further
explanation of a particular point. For example:
• ‘All in all, you are saying …?’
• ‘In short, you are saying …?’
We usually end this kind of summary with a rising voice, to give it a questioning quality.
A short summary can also be used to get somebody back to the original question. Toward the end of the
summary, the voice then lowers a little, possibly followed by a ‘but …’:
• ‘So you have had a good time there, (but) now I want to get back to our previous subject, namely …’
To understand somebody well and to explore a subject in more depth, we can ask questions about the
accompanying feeling. For example:
• ‘How was that for you?’
• ‘How did that feel?’
Sometimes we can also word the accompanying feeling ourselves. For example:
• ‘That must have been very sad, pleasant, challenging and so on.’
• ‘Apparently that has – or hasn’t – touched you very much.’
Of course, this technique can turn itself against us when we come up with the wrong feelings. Well
applied, however, wording an accompanying feeling ourselves can work miracles. People tend to
suppress certain feelings in order not to be overwhelmed by them. Later, when the event that evoked
the emotion has been history for a long time, there is a good chance that the accompanying emotion
still is suppressed. Questions about these feelings, intended to come to some acknowledgment of the
accompanying feelings in the end, can still evoke strong emotions but can also lead to a great relief.
Though this may sound strange, this technique can also be very effective in self-reflection. For example,
wording or questioning an accompanying feeling ourselves should be used as a standard intervention
when we don’t feel anything while it would really be quite normal to experience an intense feeling.
Either when somebody remains too vague or too abstract in their answers or when we really do not
understand properly what the respondent means, we can ask them to concretize their answer by asking
them to give an example.
• ‘Can you give an(other) example of that?’
• ‘When did this occur, for example?’
When the respondent gives an example, you can get a clear image of what the other person means, or is
hiding, by exploring the example further with probing and other techniques. Asking for specific examples
is also very effective in self-reflection. As you will have understood by now, you probably are no less
evasive than the next guy.
The techniques to be discussed now are primarily intended to track underlying assumptions and goals.
Asking for assumptions and goals often boils down to asking why. For example:
• ‘What do you gain by that?’
• ‘What does it do for you?’
• ‘What is your motive?’
• ‘To what end are you doing this?’
• ‘What are you avoiding in this way?’
• ‘What is important about that?’
• ‘Why do(n’t) you want that?’
• ‘What makes you act here?’
It is good to realize that asking ‘why’ most of the time doesn’t boil down to asking for causes. On the
contrary, most often it involves asking for goals: things we want to attain or avoid.
Surfacing underlying assumptions often boils down to repeatedly asking why, sometimes even many
times in a row. For example:
• ‘Why do you laugh?’
• ‘It’s just funny.’
• ‘Why is it funny?’
• ‘The idea that in the end it is not my carelessness at all.’
• ‘Why on earth would it have been a matter of your carelessness?’
• ‘Well, I just thought it was a matter of my carelessness.’
• ‘Why did you think that?’
• ‘I’m often accused of carelessness.’
Of course, this can go on for a while, either resulting in a whole history of false accusations or wanting to
be the cause of things and to be of influence, based on deeply rooted feelings of inferiority, caused by …,
and so on.
Another point is that it is less than elegant to ask why each time. A better sequence would have been:
• ‘You are laughing?’
• ‘It’s just funny.’
• ‘What is so funny about it?’
• ‘The idea that in the end it is not my carelessness at all.’
• ‘Well, I thought it was a matter of my carelessness.’
• ‘How come?’
Though such an approach is often necessary to surface underlying assumptions – such as in the case of
‘inquiry’ (see Chapter 5), where it can be an important ingredient of a successful dialogue – it will not
come as a surprise that the other party may experience this approach as aggressive. As it is, we do come
very close to the other person in this way. Consequently, we can apply this approach only in a climate of
safety and mutual trust. Of course, such a climate cannot be taken for granted.
There are many different ways to create a climate of safety and mutual trust. Self-disclosure – that is,
showing openness about ourselves – can help to set the tone. Explaining our reasons, motives and goals
for our own questions and remarks helps too. This is called ‘advocacy’ and is also one of the crucial
elements of dialogue (see Chapter 5). Being able to create a good atmosphere, a reputation of good
intentions and the absence of malice are other ingredients. In addition, there is agreeing about certain
rules. An example of such a rule would be that both parties are responsible for indicating and guarding
their own limits. Another way to create such a climate is explicating the need of openness in a situation
such as this one (see also Chapter 5).
An alternative technique to surface underlying assumptions and goals is confronting. Confronting
implies that an answer is related to a datum external to that datum, which is incompatible with the
answer. This also is often regarded as aggressive and demands a climate of safety and mutual trust as
Confronting can involve a previous answer, for example:
• ‘You just said … Now you are saying … How do these two relate to each other?’
Confronting can also concern our own practical or theoretical knowledge:
• ‘In general, it is the case that … How does that apply here?’
Or an incompatibility with the non-verbal behavior:
• ‘Why are you laughing about this?’
Furthermore, we can consult our own feelings, however indeterminate they are:
• ‘You say that in a very relaxed way. I would feel very bad if such a thing happened to me.’
• ‘That gives me an indeterminate feeling. Can you tell me somewhat more about it?’
Still another option is examining what images the words of the other person evoke in our mind. If there
is an image, we can simply tell them about it:
• ‘What you say evokes in me an image of …’
Above the advice was given to give at least seven answers to a question and to make a story ou …
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