How might you use the Socratic Method?
How might you use the Socratic Method?

The Socratic Method is a form of question-and-answer dialogue that aims to stimulate critical thinking and uncover underlying beliefs and assumptions. The intention is thus different from a “regular conversation”. I would suggest that its ultimate aim is for the person being questioned to realise that they are not their thoughts and “not to believe everything they think”.

It aims to accomplish this by asking a series of questions designed to challenge the other person’s assumptions and uncover any inconsistencies or contradictions in their arguments. Its origins are in education although it is now widely used outside of educational spheres including in some forms of coaching and other areas of personal development.

Different types of questions are used to, for example:

  • Clarify thinking
  • Challenge assumptions
  • Probe the evidence
  • Consider alternatives
  • Consider the implications

Nevertheless, caution does have to be taken to ensure it does not turn into a “gotcha” type of conversation as the person asking the question goes in for the logical kill.

Want to Try it Now?

  • What would you say is the ultimate aim of the Socratic Method based on this text?
  • How does it seek to ultimately uncover underlying beliefs and assumptions?
  • Why is it important for the person being questioned to realise they are not their thoughts?
  • Can you think of a situation in which this method might be useful outside of education or coaching?
  • What are some potential risks or downsides of using it and how might they be mitigated?
  • How can you tell the difference between a productive dialogue and a “gotcha” type conversation?

Questions in the Image:

  • How might you use the Socratic Method?
  • How might it work better than other methods?
  • What evidence do you have for this?
  • What alternatives might there be?
  • What knock-on effects might its use have?

Want to Read More Around this Topic?

The Socratic Method: A Practitioner’s Handbook by Ward Farnsworth (link to Amazon.co.uk). Hard to improve on the blurb: “Ward Farnsworth explains what the Socratic method is, how it works, and why it matters more than ever in our time. Easy to grasp yet challenging to master, the method will change the way you think about life’s big questions.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – a slow-running tap might be asking – Why are you in a hurry? Where are you going that is better than here? Am I not offering you a moment of rest? This can then lead to curiosity around: Where else might I find moments of rest during my day?

About Tom O’Leary

I coach, mentor and teach leaders committed to a higher purpose who sense they can do better.

Together, we unlock deep insights that spur how they think, act and lead.

These are leaders who want to make a difference.

And yet, to make a difference we need to be different. This starts with how we think, what we question and how we decide!

This means spending time being curious about everything from where we place our attention to the choices we make and contemplating what might be possible so that when we take action, we can bring all our energy and power to bear.

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