When you engage in a problem-solving conversation follow St. Francis of Assisi’s advice to “seek first to understand then to be understood.”  Microscope and Telescope Questions help you do that.

A microscope makes objects look larger than they really are so we can observe and understand them while a telescope brings distant objects close enough to see and comprehend.

Full Moon

Full Moon

Microscope Questions

Early in a conversation, as you “seek to understand”, your goal is to make the discussion as broad as possible.  You need to understand all the issues and concerns from the other party’s perspective in order to develop an appropriate solution.

Microscope Questions begin with:

  • Tell me about…
  • Help me to understand…
  • Walk me through…
  • Share with me a little about…

Don’t be satisfied with the first response you receive.

Always ask at least two follow up questions to get beneath the surface of the initial response.

  • Asking questions is like drilling for water. It is better to dig one 100 foot hole than 100 one foot holes
  • Toyota institutionalized this approach when it developed the “5 Whys” method to uncover the root cause of a quality concern.

Learn to use silence to uncover additional information

  • When the other party stops talking, remain silent. Often they continue talking.  The information they provide at this point will give you a deeper understanding of their thoughts and feelings.

The best Discovery Question is usually the one you didn’t think to ask.

  • Microscope Questions often unearth crucial information that would otherwise never have come up.

Telescope Questions move the conversation from
understanding the problem to solving the problem.

Telescope Questions

Once both parties have a clear understanding of the issue, it is time to “seek to be understood”.   Telescope Questions move the conversation from understanding the problem to solving the problem.

Telescope Questions begin with:

  • What if…
  • Have you considered…
  • What would it mean to you if…
  • If we were to…

Present potential solutions in a way that keeps the other party from “digging in” and getting defensive.

  • This approach keeps all options open for discussion and keeps people from refusing to consider possible alternatives.
  • The discussion takes on a problem solving atmosphere rather than an adversarial atmosphere.

Microscope Questions broaden the conversation to help you understand the other party’s perspective. They also help the other party clarify their own thoughts and feelings on the issue.

While Microscope Questions broaden the conversation Telescope Questions narrow the conversation to a discussion of potential solutions.  This approach yields the greatest possibility of finding common ground and reaching a solution satisfactory to both parties’ needs.