Supervision and the art of questioning

Posted: 31/05/2022

At any given moment in a supervision session, we may find ourselves wondering, ‘What is the most useful question I could ask right now?’

This, however, begs another question: ‘What do we mean by a useful question?’

Questions are fundamental in constructing—and changing—social realities. All questions carry particular assumptions and invitations. There is no such thing as an innocent or neutral question.

One variety of strengths-based work, the field of Appreciative Inquiry, has provided a number of guiding aphorisms including the following:

  • We live in the worlds our questions create.
  • The choice of topics and questions is vital
  • As plants grow towards the light, human systems grow in the direction of their curiosity – toward what they persistently ask questions about.

The usefulness of strengths-based questions lies in the particular topics that they ‘persistently ask questions about’. The supervision cards encourage supervisors to persistently ask questions about practitioners’ hopes, priorities, achievements, strengths, resilience, resourcefulness, creativity, and ongoing professional developments. They invite both supervisors and practitioners to live in a world which values collaboration, affirmation, mutual respect, careful reflection and constructive challenge—irrespective of the topic under discussion and the circumstances in which supervision occurs.

This resource can support creative practice in the wide variety of supervision contexts. Strengths-based approaches and assumptions provide the foundation for the cards, and they can make a contribution to your practice irrespective of whether you explicitly identify with a strengths-based perspective.

We also encourage supervisors to tailor the questions to their own circumstances; to reword and rework them, or develop new cards and questions, if necessary. We need to remember that, while supervisors can ask a question with a particular intent in mind, the actual effect of the question is always unpredictable.

As Steve de Shazer, the pioneer of solution-focused therapy, often said: In the end, only the client can tell us if a question was useful.


Additional resources:

supervision – card set 

Stepping into Supervision: A Strengths Approach – online learning

Supervision – a strengths based approach – online workshop


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