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QUESTIONS FOR SUCCESS

Why is failure so attractive?

Using success does not mean ignoring 'failure'.
You can use both (and all) kinds of experience. By doing so you offer more routes to learning - including happy ones! You also increase the chances of using failure constructively. And reviewing itself can become a more enjoyable and rewarding process.

People are attracted to experience-based training or education because they expect it to be an involving and enjoyable process. Then along comes 'review time' or a 'debriefing session' that is anything but involving and enjoyable - especially when the focus is on failure. Why should this be so?

The reasons are many (and will be discussed in a research-based article in the 'Food for Thought' section of this guide). Just three possibilities are mentioned next.

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Why failure attracts attention in reviews

  1. Attitude. Facilitators see 'learning from experience' as equivalent to 'learning from mistakes', 'error correction' or 'block removal'. They concentrate on barriers to learning and development. This can be an effective recipe, but it is not the only one!
  2. Training. Trainers and educators have not been trained in (or thought much about) how people learn from success - with the result that 'failure-focus' can seem more 'professional' than 'success-focus'.
  3. Questioning skills. There is much more to reviewing than asking the right questions. But much reviewing is carried out in this mode. And facilitators may not appreciate just how negative the effect of their questioning can be. Even apparently neutral questions can lead straight into negatives. For example ...
Question asked 'What did you learn?'
Question heard 'What did you learn not to do?'
Alternative question 'What did you achieve?' 'How?'
 
Question asked 'What would you do differently next time?'
Question heard 'What went wrong this time?'
Alternative question 'What would you do the same next time?'
 
Question asked 'How can you improve?'
Question heard 'What weak points are holding you back?'
Alternative question 'What strengths can you use more and build on?'
 
Question asked 'What do you want to achieve?'
Question heard 'What can you not do now?'
Alternative question 'What is your recipe for success?'
'What will you now apply that to?'

All of the above questions can be asked to individuals or to groups.

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Reviewing by Questions

One of the most frequently used reviewing methods is where a facilitator asks questions to the group.

Two common pieces of advice are:

  1. to ask open questions (unless you want a yes/no answer)
  2. to follow a particular sequence - such as following a learning cycle that leads into the next activity or event.
A third piece of advice I would add is to check the positive-negative balance of your questioning.

Monitoring the balance of your questions
Before a reviewing session, write down the main questions you are likely to ask, and mark each with a symbol:

arrow up = likely to focus on positives

arrow both ways= could lead in any direction

arrow down = likely to focus on negatives
You can repeat this exercise following the session, but based on the questions you actually did ask. A co-worker may be able to help you with this, and may even be helpful enough to record the kinds of responses that each question produced.

There are no right or wrong answers about the 'correct' or 'best' ratio of postives to negatives. Feedback from learners will certainly assist your judgement on this point. (This is explored further on the feedback and evaluation pages.)

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More examples of alternative questions

What went wrong? Also try: What went right? What were the most promising ideas? Could any of these ideas have worked? If so, how?
What issues shall we put on the agenda? Also try: What issues have shifted down (or off) the agenda? (because they are issues we are dealing with successfully)
What will you do differently next time? Also try: What will you do the same next time?
What do you need to work on? Also try: What do you have to work with?
What are your needs? Also try: What are your strengths?
What's missing from this group? Also try: Let's do an audit of the talents, qualities and skills already in this group that will help you achieve this next challenge.
What's the problem? How can you fix it? Also try: What's your goal? What are you already doing that will help you get there?
How do you plan to achieve your goal? Also try: In what ways are you already moving towards your goal? What gives you the confidence that you can achieve it?
How did you get into such a mess? Also try: Have you tackled anything like this in the past? What worked then? How can you adapt or build on what worked last time?
You scored nothing on this exercise. What can you learn from this? Also try: You scored nothing on this exercise, but you can score a lot in this review. It's what you score in reviews that represents the real value you get from this course. Let's start with positive feedback for each individual.
Since writing this article I have further explored the art of asking question asking in Zooming in and Out when Facilitating Learning

FINDING SUCCESS

The use of reviewing tools with a 'positive bias' can help tools with a 'negative bias' to work more effectively.

Questions matched to the reviewing cycle
(sequenced questions - part of the reviewing cycle tutorial)

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