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I don’t remember when but I always knew when I asked questions without giving enough time for answers. I think I did it because I couldn’t stand the silence. I think I also tought if you have a question you better be quick cause we’re working here!

As I transitioned to a coaching role, with software developers, product managers and leadership I tweaked that quite a bit.

I hope this blog post will help you reflect on how you’re asking questions online and in person.

Wait 20 seconds

After I ask a question in an online call–with or without video–my default is to count in my head between 5 to 20 seconds.

Give people time to reflect on the question and come up with replies.

I count like one-thousand-and-one, one-thousand-and-two and so on. I am cool with the uncomfortable silence. I am actually excited as I wait for questions. Ask yourself:

Am I ok with uncomfortable silence?

Always 20 seconds? Nope. Someone one told me always and never don’t apply to facilitation. And I reply “it’s depends”.

When the group is small (say 4/5) and I see all faces shaking no I cut it short and move on.

On some video call platforms you can ask for non verbal feedback–ie raise hand for questions but on online calls larger then 10/15 I still rather wait it out and give people time to think.

Syncronous vs asyncronous

Some people might not feel comfortable speaking up in from of the whole group. Or simply need more time to reflect on what the question they have. Asking to write down–in the chat, in your virtual space–can help with that and the latter can give anononymity too.

I use asyncronous in groups larger then 5/6, after I see a few popping up I ask would anyone like to share their question? If nobody starts I just go ahead read the post it and answer.

I find especially useful to use the async for debriefing activities or questions for groups larger then 10/15.

How to ask questions

It’s probably not great to ask “everything is clear right?” wait 1 second and move on.

I avoid leading questions, good way to ask for feedback would be:

  • is there any question? (duh)
  • is it clear to everybody what we’re doing next? – after a brief
  • imagine you applied this in your context, what questions would come up for you? – after some more theoretical piece
  • after looking at a set of data might be a good fit to use the questions from Adaptive action (HSD’s set of powerful question that lead to wise action): Where are you now? Where would you like to be? How are you gonna get there?

A note on emergence

In facilitating emerging activities–that are left purpusefully vague and open–I avoid the questions above since they would give too much guidance. I explain at the best of my abilities and then ask “raise your hand if you have enough information to be able to get to work”.


I hope you’ve found something useful, where are you know in your asking questions online journey? Where would you like to be? How are you gonna get there? Let me know in the comments or on twitter!

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Enrico Teotti

agile coach, (visual) facilitator with a background in software development and product management since 2001 in Europe, Australia and the US.

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