Socrates is probably the most famous philosopher and teacher ever.
So anyone who is interested in becoming a better teacher, or a psychologist for that matter, would do well to study his methods.
Socrates believed so strongly in his methods that when he was asked to stop his teaching or drink hemlock (a poison) that he calmly drank from the cup and continued to ask questions till his very last breath.
Thankfully these days, at least in Western culture anyway, we are encouraged to ask questions.
My parents always taught me to stand up for what I believe in and to question that which I felt was wrong or injust.
Unfortunately I did have a habit of rubbing a few teachers the wrong way, maybe I should have learned something from the master himself, Socrates.
Below are the six types of questions that Socrates asked his pupils.
Conceptual clarification questions
To clarify people’s thinking. Prove the concepts behind their argument. Basic ‘tell me more’ questions that get them to go deeper.
- What exactly does this mean?
- What do we already know about this?
- Can you give me an example?
- Are you saying … or … ?
Probing of assumptions to understand the presuppositions and unquestioned beliefs on which they are founding their argument.
- What else could we assume?
- Please explain why/how … ?
- How can you verify or disprove that assumption?
- What would happen if … ?
- Do you agree or disagree with … ?
Probing rationale, reasons and evidence
To understand the reasoning for people’s arguments.
- Show me … ?
- Can you give me an example of that?
- What do you think causes … ?
- How can I be sure of what you are saying?
- Why? (keep asking it — you’ll never get past a few times)
Questioning viewpoints and perspectives
Understanding people’s perspective and to show that there are other, equally valid, viewpoints.
- What alternative ways of looking at this are there?
- Who benefits from this?
- What is the difference between… and…?
- How are … and … similar?
- What would … say about it?
- How could you look another way at this?
Probe implications and consequences
The argument that people give may have logical implications that can be forecast.
- Then what would happen?
- How could … be used to … ?
- How does … affect … ?
- Why is … important?
- What is the best … ? Why?
Questions about the question
And you can also get reflexive about the whole thing, turning the question in on itself.
- What was the point of asking that question?
- Why do you think I asked this question?
- What does that mean?
In a previous post I talked about the power of questions. I’m sure that from looking at the list above you’ll realize just how questions can make us see our world differently.
From my experience as both a coach and a teacher that questions are everything.
Regardless of whether you’re at work or at home, we can only truly understand what other people are after by asking the right questions and listening carefully to their answers.
I know I found these questions useful, I hope you will, too.