Master Facilitator Journal, the ezine for facilitators.  


Skill of the Week


Home | Skill of the Week | Archives | Resources | Forums | Advertising
Life Coaching | About Us | Contact Us | Subscribe



Coaching offer for Facilitative Leaders. Click here for details.

Exquisite relaxation products at Discount Prices.

Check out Serenity Health huge selection of discounted conscious gift items including fountains, corporate gifts, meditation aids, incense, and inspirational. 

"Dream-Minder Helps You Break The Success Barrier NOW."
Click Here for 

The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0073 | October 1, 2002
5,500 Subscribers

picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.

From the Publisher: 
Hello MFJ Readers. This issue explores the use of the Socratic Method in facilitation and training. We'd like to thank
Norman Patnode, Professor of Program Management & Leadership at the Defense Acquisition University for submitting this article.

Also, check out our sponsor ad on the Conference Bike. What a brilliantly creative idea and a great way to get people energized about meetings!

If you or your colleagues are interested in submitting an article for consideration, please email your ideas. I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!
Steve Davis

Training Skill

The Power of Questions
Using the Socratic Method as a Learning Facilitator

The Point

What is the Socratic Method?

The Socratic Method uses questions to guide your student on a journey of discovery leading toward greater understanding or increased performance.

Although facilitation is about moving people to where they want to go, the simple truth is that nobody moves anywhere unless they move themselves. The Socratic Method is a way to help people see when they need to move, and where they need to move to. It produces better learning and better solutions because it leads people to explore, challenge their thinking, and discover answers for themselves. Self-discovery facilitates action because individuals uncover for themselves what needs to be done and why.

How does it work?

There are two elements essential to using the Socratic Method - questions, and knowing where you're going.

1) Not all questions are created equal. There are open, closed, and guiding questions, but it's important to understand that every question is a search for one of three things:
  • An expression of a subjective preference.
  • An objective fact.
  • The best possible alternative or solution.

2) You must know where you're going in order to know what to ask for. As a facilitator you are trying to help someone to get where they want to go. Start there. That's your first question. Ask them where they want to go and why they want to get there. What's their desired outcome or end result? You'll want to keep their answer out in front of you so it can guide you like a beacon as you continue to ask and receive questions.


Once you ask a question - be quiet. Wait. Even if there's a very loooooooooong pause. Allow them time to think and reflect, to form their answer. Don't answer your own question! You don't want to send the message that your questions are rhetorical. If someone is unable to answer your question, back up and break your question into smaller questions. Or you might ask them what their question is - what's got them stuck.

When you're asked a question, think, "What's needed to answer that question"? Then ask yourself, "Which of those things is this person missing"? If it's not obvious, ask. If you know what's needed, then ask yourself, "What question will help move them there?"

Then you're ready to respond to the initial question -- with a question that will help them move forward, towards where they want to go.  Note that moving forward may mean stepping sideways, or even backwards, as you ask questions to help them find what they need to answer their earlier questions. Because you don't know before you start what they'll need, you can't know in advance what path you and they will take as you guide them to where they want to go.
If you're working with a group, be sure not to repeat what someone says, or you'll unwittingly train them not to listen to one another. Instead, ask another participant to repeat what was said if clarity is needed.

If you find your participants speaking only to you, take some time and help them understand the importance of speaking to everyone when they are asking and answering questions. Involving everyone and expanding the discussion helps the group to learn as a team, which dramatically increases their discoveries.

If you're used to preparing a set of charts and presenting them, you may find using the Socratic Method challenging, and perhaps a bit "messy." However, with practice, you'll find the approach both fun and rewarding. After all, when do you learn best? When someone tells you the answer, or when they help you figure it out for yourself?

This article was submitted by Norman Patnode, Professor of Program Management & Leadership at he Defense Acquisition University, where he provides training in strategic leadership, critical thinking, teamwork and teambuilding, the application of Myers-Briggs (MBTI), program risk management, coaching and conflict management. He also teaches a number of the basic program management tools. He can be reached at


Take an opportunity to experiment with the Socratic Method with your groups or simply in conversation with individuals you encounter that may be looking for guidance. I'd love to hear what happens for you. Please email me your comments.

Socratic Logic: A Logic Text Using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles
by Peter Kreeft

This is the only complete system of classical Aristotelian logic in print. This book is simple and user-friendly. It is highly interactive, with a plethora of exercises and a light, engaging style. Most beginners need a "back to basics" logic text rather than the latest overpriced one with state-of-the-art "bells and whistles" that they will never use outside class.

It is practical. It is designed for do-it-yourselfers as well as classrooms. It emphasizes topics in proportion to probable student use: e.g., interpreting ordinary language, not only analyzing but also constructing effective arguments, smoking out hidden assumptions, making "argument maps," and using Socratic method in various circumstances. It is divided into eighty-eight mini-chapters for maximum mix-and-match flexibility.

It is also philosophical. Its exercises expose students to many classical quotations, and additional chapters introduce philosophical issues in a Socratic manner and from a common-sense, realistic point of view. It prepares students for reading Great Books rather than Dick and Jane, and models Socrates as the beginner's ideal teacher and philosopher.

cartoon image of a talking man.

Reader Survey 

What is missing for you as a facilitator?

This week, we're asking you share
any holes you see in your role as a facilitator. It doesn't matter whether you're actually practicing facilitation, or are simply incorporating these skills into your role as a leader, trainer, teacher, coach, counselor, etc. We're looking for tools, skills, support, etc. that aren't in place but if they were, would really support your effectiveness.

Please email me your ideas. I'll send the entire collection to those who contribute.

If you know someone who might benefit and enjoy this newsletter, please send this link to a friend.

About the Author
Steve Davis is a Facilitator's Coach helping leaders enhance their effectiveness through the application and perspective of facilitation. Please email or call me at 805-489-4130 to schedule a Free exploratory session, or to share your suggestions and ideas for the journal. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading!

In the Spotlight


"Exercise" the Socratic Method...
In Motion!

Check out the new Conference Bike by Eric Staller

The ConferenceBike is a tricycle pedalled by 7 riders sitting in a circle. One person steers while the other 6 pedal (or not), as the bike moves effortlessly along. 

The ConferenceBike is now being enjoyed by diverse groups all over the world. It is a tour bike in London and Berlin, a tool for corporate team-building in Amsterdam, a way for blind people to bike in Dublin, and a vehicle to convey people at theme parks in England, Germany and Israel. Every week new uses are being discovered: seminars, weddings, festivals, church and therapy groups are amazed at the powerful sharing effect that these bikes have.

Stay in shape as you stay in touch.

Everyone who rides a ConferenceBike lights up smiling! It has a magical effect on people: it lowers inhibitions and after just a few minutes even total strangers are talking to one another. You really have to experience it to believe its social power. Children come running, adults are transformed into children.

The ConferenceBike is also a powerful marketing tool for drawing attention to your organization.

Eric Staller

Click here for more info and purchase information.

Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on October 8, 2002.   

Home | About Us | Skill of the Week | Forums | Archives | Advertising
Resources | Life Coaching | Contact Us | Subscribe

Copyright 2002. All Rights Reserved.