Solution-Focused Questions

How can you use questions to improve individual performance? You can ask solution-focused questions. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write how to improve non-performance by asking solution-focused questions in their article, “The Neuroscience of Leadership”, in “strategy+business” magazine.

Don’t Ask Problem-Focused Questions
Rock and Schwartz write:

“Let’s go back to Mike, our pharmaceutical CEO. One of Mike’s direct reports, Rob, has hired only three of his targeted six new team members this year. If Mike asks Rob why he didn’t reach the goal, he will focus Rob’s attention on the nonperformance. As a result of this attention, Rob might make new cognitive connections (also known as reasons) as to why he didn’t find the new people. For example, ‘All the really good people are taken by other companies,’ or ‘I don’t have time to do the kind of recruiting we need.’ Although these reasons that people were not hired might be true, they do little to support or foster any change.”

Ask Solution-Focused Questions
Rock and Schwartz write:

“A more useful place to focus Rob’s attention is on the new circuits he needs to create to achieve his objectives in the future. Mike could ask Rob, ‘What do you need to do to resolve challenges like this?’ Mike’s questioning might provoke Rob to have an insight that he needs to remind himself of his annual objectives more regularly, to keep his eyes on the prize. If Mike regularly asked Rob about his progress, it would remind Rob to give this new thought more attention.”

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • Focus attention on the solution.  This doesn’t mean ignore understanding the problem.  It means, that rather than spending 20% of your energy on the solution and 80% on the problem, spend 80% on the solution and 20% on the problem.  Keep moving forward, learning and adapting rather than sitting in analysis paralysis.

  • Use questions to get resourceful.  By asking solution-focused questions, you switch your mind into a more resourceful state.  Your brain suddenly starts drawing on all your resources internally and around you to solve the problem.