02/23/2019

Scaling questions: a simple tool, guaranteed to work

On a scale from one to ten, how important is family to you? How important is it to have a partner with a good sense of humor? These are questions you typically find on dating platforms. They are designed to find out what makes you tick and what you want from a future partner. All you have to do is give a rating. A very simple methodology that can also work in a professional context – long after you’ve found your dream partner. 

The perfect colleague

Have you ever experienced structural conflict at your company? When nothing seems to work and there‘s no solution in sight? For instance, a conflict between colleagues or departments where both parties are unwilling to compromise. In cases like these, I like to use scaling questions. Quite a simple tool at first glance, as all people have do to is assess their emotional state or current perception of the situation on a scale, with both end points clearly defined. (And yes, a pinch of humor is also permitted. ;-) In questions on personal well-being, for instance, a ten might be something like "exuberant" or even "orgiastic", a one might be something like "on your last legs.") But let's not dwell on theory – let's move on to practice. 

Use scaling questions to converge positions

Dianne was facing a persistent problem at her leasing firm: Field sales and the sales back-office didn't get along. So she invited both parties to talk – separately – and made each of them assess the situation on a scale. "How do you rate your collaboration with field ales / the back-office?" she asked them. "Four," each replied. Okay, at least both parties were in agreement here. After both explained their reasons for giving four points, Dianne made the scale dynamic. It turned out that two years ago, the field sales person would have given the back-office seven or eight points. Now, she complained, it appeared that people there completely lacked motivation. The key moment came when Dianne asked what would have to change in order for them to give five points instead of four. Both had a whole series of suggestions. In a joint meeting, both parties then went over all proposed solutions and found common ground – on their own, without Dianne's help. 

Go step by step

This questioning technique has an obvious advantage: It helps you find out what needs to happen for things to get better. In a next step you may want to ask the conflicting parties: Was the situation better/worse before, and what helped to make it worse/better? While other techniques often result in gigantic projects – so complex that no one really feels like tackling them –, scaling questions are often easier to handle and therefore more helpful. After all, what you want is small steps that you can implement quickly and easily. My advice is to keep asking those scaling questions at regular intervals. Reiteration can help follow up on the changes initiated, and also to secure the transfer into the “outside world" – so that customers will notice the changes and give you corresponding feedback. When that happens, you're ready to take the next step. So – on a scale from one to ten, ....? Fill in the blank.

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