Listen with Purpose: Try Framing Questions

Have you ever gotten the sense that people are distracted or multi-tasking when asked to read or listen to content, no matter how fascinating that content is? Have you ever struggled to keep people on task when discussing something they’ve heard or read?

Welcome to a tool called framing questions! Framing questions are presented to learners to help focus their attention and listen with purpose.

WHY Invite Focused Listening

Below are reasons for helping individuals or groups to listen with purpose.

  • To direct attention. It is not always clear what the intent is or what you hope listeners will notice or lean into.
  • To minimize multi-tasking. Sometimes, solo focus is needed to deepen listening and attention.  
  • To be more able to share thoughts after. When many new ideas are offered in succession it may be challenging to remember which was new, helpful, or challenging. When we write them down in a focused way, we will have them to share when the time is offered.
  • To help personalize. Personalization helps adults find relevance and increases engagement i.e., “… notice what rings true for you in your work and 1 idea for possible collaboration.”
  • To get specific while still staying open. For example, “things that jump out at you as especially important for your work” is a better question than simply “things that jump out at you.”
  • To advance collaborative thinking. If people are all listening with the same purpose in mind, their exchanges can catapult collective learning and action.

WHEN to Do this

Below are some of the many times you can use framing questions. Notice how they are always offered before something starts.

  • Before a reading or content-rich video
  • Before a keynote speaker
  • Before a presentation(s)
  • Before a conference panel
  • Before team report-outs or “gallery tours”
  • Before field visit
  • … and so much more

HOW to Write These Invitations

As always, we suggest being highly intentional – and creative – as you craft framing questions. We hope the groupings and examples below help you build exactly the right question for your group and situation.

TYPE #1 – Questions to generate diverse perspectives, incite healthy controversy, source collective wisdom

  • “The person in this podcast may have a different point of view than you. As they speak, listen hard for 1 aspect you agree with – and 1 aspect you see quite differently.
  • “As you listen to our keynote speaker today, note your thoughts to the two questions: What do you hear that pushes or stretches your own thinking on this topic? Write these in your conference workbook on page 15 so you can be shared at your table after the presentation.”

TYPE #2 – Questions to deepen personal clarity and team connection

  • “Play this 15-minute video with paper and pencil in hand. As it plays, note moments that really move you – and record the time stamp so we can go back to it when we meet.”
  • “As we move through the tour today, consider: How does what you are seeing deepen your understanding of [topic]? What resonates for you and why?”

TYPE #3 – Questions to sharpen the team vision and/or propel plans forward

  • “Sit back and enjoy this presentation on the vision for this new program. As you listen, note 2-3 aspects of the vision you especially appreciate. Get ready to share 1 idea for potential collaboration to that will make this vision a success.
  • “As we walk through the draft policy manual, let’s pause after each section: What are you happy is here? What adjustments, if any, do we need to make now to move this across the finish line?

TIPS for Success

Below are tips to help you be successful in using invitation questions before something starts to help participants focus. Notice the tip that you want to ensure you include in yours.

  • Clarify why it is important to respond to the invitation. If participant input is of great value for a decision or the co-creation of something, tell them. If the questions are to deepen the dialogue after the presentation or will assist the learning, let them know. We don’t want participants to work hard to record their ideas only to find that they will not be collected or used in any way.
  • Be thoughtful about every word used. Every word counts and will help to set the tone i.e., For a group that tends to multi-task and rush, consider “Sit back and enjoy… As you listen, notice what words are reassuring for you …”
  • Be specific. The specificity of the question influences what the group focuses on i.e., For a group that tends to focus on things they don’t like, I’d be inclined to ask then to “note aspects you appreciate about…”
  • Quantify. Quantifying can work well if you want to make sure to get a variety of responses i.e., For a group that might not ask the panelists anything, consider asking for at least one question per person.
  • Put the questions in their hands/offer space to write. It is helpful for individuals to write their thoughts and questions as they come to mind and have them close by for easy reference. This will make it easier to share with a partner or small group later or refer back to if future reflection is desired. Here are three examples to inspire:

With so much going on in our lives and work every day, it is helpful to have tools and reasons to focus attention. Offering a few questions and a blank page can be just what a group needs to put down their phone, turn away from email or limit multi-tasking to consider what one person or document is trying to offer. Invite listening with a purpose.

When can you offer 1-2 questions to encourage listening for purpose?

What questions would be most helpful?

Valerie Uccellani is GLP Senior Partner and Co-owner. Read more blogs by Valerie.

Jeanette Romkema is GLP Senior Consultant, Network Director and Co-owner. Read more blogs by Jeanette.

A NOTE OF THANKS: We are deeply grateful to LaDonna Pavetti, Senior Fellow with MEF Associates, who approached us with the question, “How do you use framing questions to help a group listen with purpose?” Donna’s wondering inspired this blog and offered the title.

Here are some resources for further reading: