Ask open-ended questions. The best questions are those that can’t be answered with a yes or no. They require the person to give more information. This process relies on getting to the heart of who they are, not who you think they are. Instead of leading the witness, try something like, “Help me understand how that made you feel.”
Avoid questions that begin with “why.” This may sound counterintuitive, since you are doing a Why Discovery. But there’s a problem with questions that begin with “why.” Ironically, they are actually harder to answer. “Why does that story matter to you?” for example, triggers the part of our brain that is not responsible for language. It’s easier to answer a question that starts with “what.” For example, “What is it about that story that really matters to you?” It’s basically the same question but framed in a way that is easier for someone to answer. It answers the “why” question by allowing the person to talk more specifically about the components of the story that were meaningful. Try both; you’ll see what we mean in practice.
Sit in silence. If you ask a question and feel they are struggling to answer, let them struggle. Resist the temptation to fill the silence with another question or a suggested answer. Instead, just wait. Emotions are difficult to articulate and it may take the person a little time to formulate the right words. Sometimes silence is the best tool you have to get them to tell you more.
Here are some effective questions to dig deeper and uncover feelings:
• When that happened, how did it make you feel?
• Who else was involved in this story and how did they make a difference to you?
• What is it about this experience that you absolutely loved?
• You’ve probably felt this same feeling before. What is it about this particular story that makes it special?
• How did this experience affect you and who you’ve become?
• What was the lesson you learned from that experience that you still carry with you today?
• Tell me what you meant when you said, “It really filled me up.” (Or whatever general statement the storyteller might make.)
• You say what happened made you feel disappointed (or sad or joyful or suspicious) but you’ve probably felt that way before. Describe how this particular feeling was so different that it still comes to mind all these years later.
• Of all the stories you could have shared with me, what makes this one so special that you chose to tell it as part of your Why Discovery?