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6 Socratic Questions: What BAs Can Learn From Socratic Questioning

Blog: Business Analyst Learnings Blog

One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing – Socrates, Classical Greek Philosopher

Where facts are clearly laid out, it reduces the need to ask questions or drill down for more information. In software projects however, the need to question everything cannot be overemphasised. In some cases, analysts have to question the relevance of system features or why things are done a certain way. 

Questioning is not only at the heart of software projects however, it is also at the heart of living. When we question, we learn, understand and grow. The questioning mind will always be one step ahead of those that simply accept what they are told in a robotic fashion.

When I came across the concept of Socratic questioning, I was quite intrigued by how powerful it can be when applied to both professional and personal endeavours. Thinking is governed by questions, not answers. Indeed every school of thought, project or system is born out of a bunch of questions to which answers are needed. 

Socratic questioning is very similar to critical thinking and seeks to uncover assumptions underlying our thinking and that of others by questioning the basis of all assertions. It operates according to the following key principles:

1) Thoughts or statements do not exist in isolation. We must seek to understand or at least, recognize the foundation (assumptions, biases and beliefs) that govern what others say. Seek to question these implications and understand them by asking key questions.

2) Treat all thoughts, assertions and statements as though they need development.

3) Thoughts are connected to one another. No thought exists in isolation. Seek out the connection between thoughts so that you can draw meaningful inferences.

Just in case you are wondering how this can be applied practically in the BA world, here are some questions that you can pose during stakeholder engagements, based on Socrates’ 6 types of questions:

1. Questions that help to clarify issues:  

2. Questions that probe assumptions:

3. Questions that probe reason and evidence: 

4. Questions about perspectives: 

5. Questions that probe consequences:

6. Questions about questions: 

Organisations should strive to encourage character traits like curiousity, quest for self improvement and understanding in their employees to ensure that innovative ideas are brought to the surface by nurturing an environment that constantly questions status quo. Socratic questioning is widely adopted by teachers to improve the questioning minds of their students but can be employed by anyone interested in developing their thinking and that of others.

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