Socratic questioning can help you reach a different conclusion to the questions you were asking. This can be useful when dealing with problems and insecurities.
Aside from Plato, Socrates is one of the most famous Greek philosophers and is regarded as one of the wisest people ever to have lived. Socrates used an educational process which sought to discover the answers to questions by allowing his students to examine ideas more closely and evaluate the validity or truth of the subject matter. His method, also known as Socratic questioning, follows the form of disciplined questioning so that we are able to pursue a thought in many directions to determine its validity.
Socrates may not have meant his methods to have profound input into psychology or self-care. Still, his method has been put to use time and time again in all areas of critical thinking, and it can help us to better understand ourselves.
What is Socratic questioning?
Socratic method is a form of critical thinking which uses six distinct types of question to help you question your question. It’s a lot less confusing than it sounds when you take a look at some examples of such questions:
Questions for clarification:
- Why do you say that?
- How is this related?
- Could you explain this in more detail?
Questions which produce assumptions:
- What can we assume from this?
- What does that mean?
- Can you verify your assumption?
Questions which necessitate reason or evidence:
- Do you have an example of this in real life?
- What has caused you to believe this?
- Why do you think this happened?
Questions regarding perspectives:
- Is there another way to look at this?
- Have you thought of the other person’s point of view?
- Who benefits and who loses from this consequence?
Questions which calculate consequences:
- What is the implication of this?
- Does this relate to previous knowledge?
- How does X affect Y?
Questions on the question:
- What does this mean?
- How can you apply this in your everyday life?
- What was the point of this enquiry?
Why is Socratic questioning relevant to us?
Socratic questioning can help you reach a different conclusion to the questions you were asking. It will also lead you to a better understanding of the question itself and its purpose in your everyday life. Although it is typically an analytical method, it can be used in a personal sphere with a little tailoring.
There are a number of ways we can use Socratic questioning. Its most notable use in psychology is for self-analysis and problem-solving.
Socratic questioning can indisputably help us in self-analysis. By applying pointed questions to our issues or insecurities, we can begin to change our minds and our thinking about certain issues.
Take an example of feeling insecure at work; you’re not doing as good a job as you think you are able.
The first thing to ask yourself might be why you are feeling this way.
Perhaps it’s because your boss criticised you or you didn’t complete an important project by the deadline. From this, you might assume that you are bad at your job.
Next, we look at whether or not we have any genuine evidence of this in the real world. My bets are, there isn’t.
Once we realise that there is no real evidence of your lack of skill at work, we can move onto other reasons or perspectives that may cause you to feel this way.
If your boss criticised you, it may be because they, themselves, are having a bad day. If you didn’t complete a project on time or to the standard you hold yourself to, it may have been a project you weren’t used to, or you didn’t have sufficient time or help.
The implication of this is that we may not always perform at our best, for a number of reasons. It may also be that we must accept that our bosses are human too, and we may not have deserved the critiques we received.
If the implication is that you were not prepared for the project or didn’t have the correct skill set, we could then take this as a learning experience, rather than a negative one.
By taking a negative feeling and using this pointed analysis, we can begin to see that our own insecurities can take over, not allowing us to see a situation as it truly is. And this is also true in solving difficult problems.
Let’s take the example of Jack and Jill.
Jack has created an information flier for his business and has sent it to Jill for reviewing and distribution. However, the flier uses small text and a lot of content, which Jill fears people may not read.
So, Jill deploys Socratic reasoning to solve the issue. By using questions which calculate the consequences of telling Jack his flier is too long, and questions which appreciate Jack’s point of view, Jill knows that Jack worked hard on this flier and doesn’t want to offend him by telling him it’s too long or hard to read.
Instead, Jill asks Jack if he believes the length is right to keep people’s interest. Jack doesn’t get offended by Jill’s comment, but she has also helped him to understand what the correct length of a flier might be in the future. By helping Jack, Jill has also improved her own methods of communication and conflict resolution.
Although these examples are simple, they say a lot about how to analyse and evaluate the outcomes of a question or issue. They also show us how we can approach situations differently to achieve a better outcome.
Socratic questioning is an easy tool to use. With practice, it can hone a number of skills to make you much more successful in work ventures as well as in your personal life.