Once mastered, this could be the most powerful tool in your toolbox.
The fact that cognitive behavioral therapy is utilized in cases of severe depression and borderline personality disorder, tells us of its powerfulness. This is a good reason to include Socratic Questioning in your bag of tricks.
Around the same time that Albert Ellis lost interest in psychodynamic therapy, American psychiatrist Aaron Beck (1921) followed a similar path. Beck is considered to be the father of both cognitive therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy and is overall seen as the most influential of all cognitive therapists.
Where Ellis could be considered a bit blunt because of his use of humor — which not everyone might be amused by — Beck uses the gentler approach of merely asking questions. These questions, however, are just as leading as Ellis’ disputations. The technique used by Beck is known as Socratic Questioning.
The questions the therapist asks the client are open questions — so not questions to which you can simply answer a “yes” or a “no” — and they are “powerful” questions, on which the client has to ponder a bit before being able to answer. Powerful questions often start with “what”, “who”, “where”, “when”, or “why”. For instance, instead of asking the weaker question, “do you like working in this team?”, you could ask, “what do you like about working in this team?” Here are some more examples of powerful questions:
· What could you do right now to improve the situation?
· What would be the first step towards your goal?
· What would be the best next step for the team to take?
· Where do you fear we end up if nothing changes?
· What is the worst that could happen if we take this route?
· What would we do if we had no obstacles and unlimited resources available?
· What’s missing from this conversation?
· What are you seeing happening right now?
· How would it make you feel if we succeeded with this plan?
· Win or lose, what would you like to learn from this experience?
· If we’re saying “yes” to this, what are we saying “no” to?
Beck’s approach also makes use of homework for the client, similar to Ellis’ approach — writing down irrational or dysfunctional thoughts and describing healthier ideas instead. The fact that cognitive behavioral therapy is utilized in cases of severe depression and borderline personality disorder, tells us of its powerfulness. This is a good reason to include Socratic Questioning in your bag of tricks. Its power — when applied well — is enormous, also in corporate environments. The only issue is its difficulty of mastering.
It’s not easy to ask powerful questions. In practice, people tend to slip into asking closed questions much easier. Often, the coach already has an idea of where to go — or so they assume — which results in asking questions that are “leading the witness”. It takes a lot of practice — in real-life situations — to be able to apply Socratic Questioning in a powerful manner. But once mastered, it could be the most powerful tool in your toolbox.
I have encountered other coaches that were so strong with this technique, it was almost scary. You would know up-front, whatever sort of meeting it was, if they were there, they would be sitting silently in a corner — brooding on the question and the moment to ask it — and then, when people least expected it, there they were, asking this one stupefying question that left the whole room speechless and some — like me — with a slight smile on their face, knowing that we were all, once again, outwitted by the powerful questioner that made us all rethink our irrational approach.
If you are interested in stories like these and more, you can buy Essential Psychology for Modern Organizations from Amazon and other bookstores: https://www.amazon.com/Essential-Psychology-Modern-Organizations-scientifically/dp/B08NP12D77/