Dear Bill | Socratic Method Fluency

Posted by Bill Esteb on Jan 20th 2023

Dear Bill

What resource(s) would you recommend if I wanted to gain greater fluency and expertise using the Socratic method?

Actually, you've just expressed the most important quality of all: curiosity.

I assume your question comes from a place of genuine interest and a desire to know. The dictionary would also include the qualities of inquisitiveness and eagerness for knowledge.

And this is where most attempts at employing the Socratic method fall down. If you're not genuinely interested in the other person's point of view, it becomes merely an attempt to manipulate; a technique you use on someone.

In consulting and coaching situations I'll often suggest a helpful thought experiment:

Imagine that one of your patients in the next couple of years has stumbled upon a superior explanation of health and healing than your chiropractic paradigm. Your mission is to uncover this innovative approach. Because when you find it, you'd want to embrace it.

Granted, it's unlikely that patients have some undiscovered secret, but that's the type of curiosity you'd want to have. In the process you're sure to learn some fresh strategies to better related to patients and make your chiropractic story more relevant.

The truth is, most of us think our particular perspective is the most accurate and truthful explanation of reality. So we have little interest in the model held by others. Especially patients. In fact, it's tempting to marvel at how mature adults can have such a juvenile understanding about how their own body works!

Attempts at hiding this attitude of superiority is difficult. It's a considerable hindrance to creating patient partnerships. In fact it can degenerate into a heroic type of rescuing that can generate a rather addictive dopamine hit.

All this by way of saying the there's more to the Socratic method than merely asking questions. In fact, here are 52 questions to get you going. Yet, without the prerequisite curiosity, it will often raise suspicions.

Moreover, asking questions is NOT a set up to so you can correct them or overpower them with the "correct" answer. No, the purpose is to create a dialogue, a volley.

"Fascinating, tell me what makes you think that?"
"Interesting, I don't I've heard that perspective before. Tell me more."
"I used to see it that way too. What led you to that conclusion?"

Show respect and interest rather than judgment or authority.

It also helps if you become a student of language. You and I are meaning making machines. We appear on planet earth and spend the first two decades attempting to make meaning of the world and understanding how it works. We look for patterns and cause-effect relationships. All this occurs as language. Often, the greater the vocabulary, the more nuanced the meanings become. That's why the importance of curiosity is eclipsed by an even more important skill: effective listening.

Asking great questions is useless if you aren't listening to the answer! Turns out the secret used by extraordinary communicators isn't the ability to be articulate or even persuasive. It's about surrendering to the other person—rather than simply "reloading" while they're talking.

With that extended preamble, since I'm a reader, here are some of the books that I've consumed over the years that you might find helpful to increase the effectiveness of asking questions:

A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer
Socrates' Way by Ronald Gross
Ask More by Frank Sesno
Ask. by Ryan Levesque

Thanks for the question!

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