Chairing Skills: The Socratic Method

The Chair is the Chief Facilitator of the Board.  Having an orderly process for dialogue makes meetings so much more satisfying.  When I train or coach Chairs, one of the tools they love is the Socratic Method of enquiry.  Two and a half thousand years old, named after Socrates, it’s a method of asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to evaluate ideas.

There are six types of question:

  1. CLARIFICATION  e.g. What do you mean by ….?  Can you give me us an example?  Can you explain that again/another way?  What clarifications does the Board need to decide about this?
  2. PROBING ASSUMPTIONS   e.g.  What assumptions are you basing that on?   What are the underlying assumptions the Board needs to consider/review/test?
  3. PROBING REASONS AND EVIDENCE  e.g. What made you choose this course of action?  What evidence do you have that increasing the number of staff will reduce the waiting time?  What evidence does the Board need to feel comfortable in progressing this decision?
  4. PROBING VIEWPOINTS AND ALTERNATIVES  e.g. What is your analysis of this situation?  Does the Board want to explore any alternative ways of achieving the same outcome?
  5. PROBING IMPLICATIONS AND CONSEQUENCES   e.g. What are the undesirable consequences of that?  What will happen if we don’t do this?   What knock-on effects might occur?
  6. QUESTIONS ABOUT QUESTIONS OR PROCESS  e.g.  What questions do we need to consider to decide about this?  Are we addressing the best questions on this topic?  What was your thinking behind that question?

The Chair can ask questions about the content of a topic or to facilitate the Board to so.  It works either way.

Taken together and in sequence, the questions constitute an excellent framework for analysing any issue.   They bring structure to discussions and enable the Board to think at a strategic level and have an orderly, constructive conversation.

Training in The Socratic Method provides a practical and engaging element of a Board Awayday.  It takes half an hour to work through before going onto use it for real in a structured dialogue.  It will greatly elevate the quality of proceedings at Board Meetings.

Do call if you want further information or to discuss ways to develop your Chair or Board develop.

Jim McLaughlin 07931 382676 or

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This blog is part of an occasional series for the leaders of housing organisations