Dr. Rich Patterson

Question Progressions

In the previous post, I talked about “Do You Ask Good Questions.”  I think this is very important because none of us see life as it is; we see it as we are.  Let’s look at how questions progress in Question Progressions.  That is a big statement and refers to something psychologists call the Johari Window.  Created by two American psychologists, Joseph Luft (1916-2014) and Harrington Ingham (1916-1955), and is used to help people better understand their views and relationships with others.  I like to explain it this way.  Imagine you have a window frame that fits your eyes – top, bottom, sides just fit over your eyes like a pair of glasses.

When we view the world, we interpret it from what we can see, but we cannot see everything because outside the window frame lies much more of which we’re not sure.  We make decisions, and statements based on our view, being so confident that we’re right. When we only have a small fraction of something and others are almost sure to have a different perspective, thus a different interpretation.

That is where questioning comes in.  Ask a question even when you’re sure you know something, and you’ll be surprised at what you may find that will change your views on something.  I like to use a Question Progression that has four parts:

  1. When someone tells you something, rather than making a statement about it, ask for more details.
  2. You can also ask questions about categories.  For example, when someone is talking about a group they are a part of, you can ask categorical questions like, Are they all men?  Do they all attend the same school, church, or club?  Anything that relates to the question to help clarify.
  3. You can always ask someone to elaborate on their first statements.  I like to do this with students to get them more engaged.  Often they lob their thoughts out in truncated form to see how others receive it.  By asking them to elaborate or give an example, you get more about their thinking.
  4. You can also ask for evidence by saying to them, is this a hunch, or do you have some concrete sources for this?

The next time you’re in a conversation, move toward questions using the sequence above, and you will find yourself with more information to process before adding your thoughts to the discussion.  Learning to design queries, use them in conversation, and ensure that they are getting at the level of detail you are asking for is a lifelong pursuit and one that will provide you with many moments to pause rather than jumping in with your opinion.

The next step for you is to ask yourself if you ask good questions; read here for more information, Do You Ask Good Questions? – Dr. Rich Patterson (

The University of Chicago writes about Asking Effective Questions here.  This article is worth the read, Asking Effective Questions – Chicago Center for Teaching (