HUMBLE INQUIRY – the gentle art of asking instead of telling – is the title of a book by Edgar H. Schein. This is my all-time favorite book as a LSP facilitator. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it, if you want to reflect on the art of asking questions to the participants’ models in your LSP workshops. 

The foundation of LSP is the 4 – step Core Process; QUESTION, BUILD, SHARE, REFLECT. The toughest parts for us facilitators are the QUESTION and REFLECT steps. Regarding the REFLECT step, we all have experience from our workshops that by asking the “right” questions to the builder’s model, we can amount other help the builder
– unlock additional insights
– surface non-explicit meaning
– become clearer about what she/he wants to express
– increase others’ understanding of the meaning

When asking REFLECTION questions the biggest trap we can fall into, is to use the word WHY? Looking at the model above it would be tempting to ask questions like this:
Why is one person walking away?
Why is this person dressed in black?
Why are the people on first floor locked in?
Why doesn’t the building fall down even if one “pillar” is gone?
Why do these people not have legs?
Why is nobody in second floor?

I have learnt over time that these are all POOR questions, because they begin with WHY?
Whenever I ask a WHY question to someone’s model, I too often see the builder getting anxious, out of FLOW, a bit defensive, insecure and taken aback.

By applying the PLAYING THE PAST technique, I have learned more about what causes this defensive reaction. The main reason is that the WHY is not “humble inquiry”. Instead it is “telling” the builder that there MUST be a reason, “so please tell me here-and-now the reason!” Maybe there is a reason for “the walking away person being black”, maybe there isn’t. What is an even worse WHY question is; “why do you think you picked the black mini figure?”

By replacing the “WHY?” with “DOES IT HAVE A MEANING THAT?” I do not get the same negative reaction and I get much better answers. The builder can say “yes” and explain, or the builder can say “no”. If the builder says “no”, I accept the answer 100%. I might try with; “does it have a meaning that the color is different from the from the other three people?” If the answer is “no” – it is end of story for me.

You could argue that a WHY question also can provoke new insights that makes it worth making the builder uncomfortable in the moment. However the real problem with the “why approach” is that it makes it less safe to share. We encourage people not to have a meeting with themselves about what to build, because we know the more they just build and trust their hands, the more knowledge is unlocked. If the builder feels their model could be subjected to uncomfortable inquisition style “why questions”, they will begin having meetings with themself about what to build. This again leads to less subconscious knowledge being unlocked.