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What Makes a Great Discussion Question?

What Makes a Great Discussion Question?

What Makes a Great Discussion Question?

The quality of your questions can have a significant impact on the quality of the resulting conversation. There are some general guidelines you can apply to each discussion question. Here are eight guidelines you can start applying today.

Question Is Open-Ended

Ask a question with a “yes” or “no” answer and that may be all you get. Little discussion means little is learned. Don’t depend on impromptu follow-up questions. Ask a question that will result in a lively conversation right from the start. Use open-ended questions.

Question Is Understandable

Have you ever been asked a question and didn’t have a clue what was being asked? If it happens to a group, the members will look back and forth at each other in silence (hoping someone knows how to answer the question). These situations happen when we get wordy, lazy or use uncommon words.

Concise questions are less confusing. Jargon and uncommon words may make you appear smart, but is that your primary goal? Don’t get lazy and start reviewing your questions. Read them out loud. Make changes if it reads awkward or can be misinterpreted.

Question Focuses on a Single Purpose

The questions you use need to ultimately focus on a single purpose for the discussion. If the conversation has multiple purposes, none of them will be done or done well after the members leave the meeting. Follow the Small Group Conversation Funnel for a discussion with impact.

Question Doesn’t Lead to a Specific Answer

A specific focus is important, but a specific answer is not. Don’t lead members to your answer. Ask questions that encourage them to respond honestly and openly. Encourage a biblically based discussion of the different perspectives. Ultimately, each member has to determine the answer for themselves. This may mean you have to agree to disagree. This is difficult for group leaders. However, Holy Spirit is at work with you and your small group members. Trust Him and leave it in His powerful hands.

Question Starts With What vs. Why

Asking a question that starts with “why” puts group members in a defensive position. Find a way to rephrase the question starting with “what” and you will improve the response you receive.

Question Uses Choose vs. Should

Using the word “should” in a question is not empowering to the other person. It can lead to guilt or procrastination rather than the desired outcome. I know this is not your intent. It isn’t my intent when I use the word.

Give a reason for the change you are proposing and then use the word “choose” instead of “should” in your question. At a minimum, use the word “could” or “would” to be less direct.

Question Uses I, We and You at Appropriate Times

Using words like “I” or “me” focuses the question on the group leader. Using “we” or “us” focuses the question on the group, church or people in general. Using the word “you” focuses the question on the individual group member. Which do you believe requires the group member to be the most vulnerable?

Save most of those vulnerable questions for the latter part of the conversation, when each member is applying what they learned to their specific situation. A great book that discusses when to use these terms is Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley.

Question Is Authentic

The best questions are those where you have no idea what the answer is and you genuinely want to discover the answer from each small group member. There is not one right answer. These are authentic questions. When authentic questions are asked, small group members learn more about each other and about the topic from different perspectives.

Consider the above guidelines when preparing each discussion question for your small group. Observe how the conversation changes as the group responds.

Question: Are there more guidelines you recommend for improving small group discussion questions?

This article originally appeared here.

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Hi, my name is Roger Carr. I am a husband, father, Christian, business person, writer, and volunteer. I have participated in and led several small groups over the past 30+ years. These small groups included those in churches, work settings, professional organizations, and nonprofit organizations. I am currently coaching small group leaders and serving on the writing team at my local church, supporting small groups weekly.