Getting Everyone to the Table

You may think that a question is just a question. You ask it and wait for everyone at the table to respond with their ideas and feedback.  But…it does not always work that way. Experienced facilitators come to their discussions armed with open-ended questions that will nudge people into joining the conversation.

Every group tends to have at least one member who says very little. That person may be shy or perhaps they feel they do not have something valuable to contribute. With the right preparation a facilitator can engage even the most reluctant group member. The trick is to plan ahead with open-ended questions.

Closed end questions allow the answer to take the form of a yes or no. Your shy people can give a one-word answer and retreat to their silence again. On the other hand, effective open-ended questions will draw people out.

You can plan your open-ended questions as part of writing your agenda. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Customize for context. They should be relevant to the day’s topic.
  • Create inviting questions. Wording can generate thought, reflection, creativity…and still be sensitive to the group’s culture.
  • Ask with genuine curiosity. If you don’t care about the idea, why would anyone else?
  • Clarify assumptions you had when you wrote the questions. Having different assumptions is a fatal blow to good communication.
  • Open-ended questions often begin with What, When, How or Why.

Getting everyone to the table is about more than their physical presence. As a facilitator you want to nurture everyone’s participation and growth.  Using open-ended questions can draw out even your quietest group members.