How to Craft Powerful Questions

This skill-building module provides concepts and tools to enable users to: 

This module is deeply inspired by and uses the work of Fostering Dialogue Across Divides by Essential Partners and The Art of Powerful Questions by Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs.

Strategic and thoughtfully prepared questions are an essential ingredient to any dialogue or circle process. A powerful question...

  • Generates curiosity in the listeners
  • Is thought provoking and stimulating
  • Surfaces underlying assumptions
  • Stays with the participants
  • Evokes more questions

There are closed-ended questions and open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions tend to lead to short or finite answers like "yes," "no" or other information. Open-ended questions lead to expansive explorations of a topic and inspire new thinking.
Both kinds of questions can be useful at times depending on whether you want to direct or expand the conversation, respectively.

It can be useful to consider using different questions at different stages of a dialogue or circle process. The following sections demonstrate the strategies for crafting powerful questions at different phases of a process.

Opening Questions

The first question of a circle process helps participants "arrive" into the conversation, introduce themselves and get comfortable in a new space. The opening questions generally ask participants to speak about their hopes, concerns, and intentions. The opening illuminates differences of perspectives and develops a collective sense of purpose for the group.

Examples of Starting Questions:

  • Please say your name and...
    • share something you hope to experience or learn while you are here.
    • what led you to accept the invitation to be here. 
    • something that could happen in this conversation that would lead you to feel glad that you decided to participate. 
    • something you left behind to be here. 

Conversation Opening Questions:

  • Please share something about your life experience that you think may have shaped your general perspectives about [the issue] or your responses to [events at the center of the controversy].
  • How has the conflict over this issue affected you personally?
  • Is there anything you’d be willing to share about the value of this community in your life that might help others understand your experience of the conflict? 
  • What is the heart of the matter for you?

Deepening Questions

After opening the conversation it is useful to ask questions that deepen reflection and illuminate the complexity and nuances of the issue. Use questions that create opportunities for people to share their beliefs, wishes, and perspectives and explore their underlying assumptions and values. These questions should help participants explore issues of identity and unpack the personal meanings of events, terms, and phrases.

Examples of Effective Deepening Questions:

  • What is the heart of the matter for you?
  • What are your current hopes, fears, concerns, or unmet needs?
  • If you had a magic wand and could make this situation just the way you wanted, how would you like to see the future?
  • What new insight, understanding, or connection have you realized from this dialogue so far?
  • Within your thinking about the issue are there any dilemmas, value conflicts, or gray areas that you’d be willing to share? 
  • What still needs to be shared that hasn't been said yet? What are we missing? What do you need more clarity about?

The graphic below demonstrates the range of questions and the different purposes they can serve:

Graphic from: The Art of Powerful Questions by Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs

Closing Questions

Closing questions should create an opportunity for participants to reflect on what they have learned during the dialogue or circle process. These questions also help participants begin to consider next steps and prepare for "reentry" into the rest of their lives.

Examples of Closing Questions:

  • Please share…
    • something about what you feel you did—or did not do—to contribute to this circle. 
    • one idea, feeling, or promising question that you are taking with you. 
  • What next steps, if any, would you like to take individually or with others in the group? With what hope or purpose? 
  • What questions or topics do you hope the group will address or consider addressing next time or in another future meeting? 
  • As you think about what you have done and not done together here, and think about returning to the people, groups, or communities with whom you normally discuss these issues, is there something you hope to carry with you, maintain, or communicate? 
    • Do you anticipate difficulties in doing that? 
    • If so, what do you most want to remind yourself about in those difficult moments?
  • Is there any way that you imagine you could offer support or receive support from the people in this room?

Questions to  use for Restorative Processes when there has been harm in a community

Restorative circles are powerful processes that can bring deep healing to a community after there has been harm. Often the focus is on the people who have harmed or been harmed, these questions expand the understanding of impact and distributes the responsibility for healing and restoration throughout the community.:

  • Of people who have been harmed:
    • What happened?
    • What impact has this incident had on you?
    • What has been the hardest thing for you?
    • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?
  • Of people who have caused harm:
    • What happened?
    • What were you thinking at the time?
    • What have you thought about since?
    • Who or what has been affected by this incident and in what ways?
    • What do you need to do to make things right, to address the harm and rebuild trust?

Source: "Restorative Practices in Queensbury Schools


DPACE Circle Process Module

Books and Articles
The Art of Powerful Questions
by Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs
Fostering Dialogue Across Divides by Essential Partners (2017)

  • Crafting Questions: pp. 24 & 159-166

Related Sites:
Restorative Practices in Queensbury Schools

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