Socrates (469-399 BCE) was a fifth century Athenian philosopher known for his interactive methods of teaching, examination of the concept of piety, adherence to civil obedience, and inquiries into the basis of virtue. He is perhaps best remembered for his ultimate act of civil obedience, administering his own death sentence by drinking hemlock after having been convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens and undermining religion.
He left no literature of his own, so everything that is known about Socrates has been gleaned from the writings of his contemporaries and his students, of which Plato was one. As a youth, his interests leaned toward scientific theories and he may have practiced his father´s art of sculpture. He later distinguished himself as a courageous soldier in the Peloponessian War between Athens and Greece. After becoming politically involved with opponents of a democratic government in the years after the war, Socrates retired to become a stonemason, husband, and father. It was only after his own father, Sophroniscus, left him an inheritance that Socrates had the financial security necessary to devote his life to teaching and philosophical dialogue.
The approach to philosophy espoused by Socrates was based upon four pillars: ironic modesty, the questioning of habit, a devotion to truth, and dispassionate reason. The dialogues for which he is so well known had as their goal the understanding and attainment of virtue, which is defined as excellence, skill, or artistry. To that end, Socrates taught by engaging his students in dialogue and questioning widely held beliefs and doctrines. He believed that it is necessary to acknowledge our own ignorance in order to take the first steps toward genuine knowledge and, in defense of the actions that brought upon him a sentence of death, uttered the timeless assertion, "The unexamined life is not worth living."??
Why all this about Socrates? If you want to help your peers, team members, and even managers get unstuck or move forward ask more Socratic questions. The best questions are open-ended and thought provoking. Here are a few examples:
“What do you want to have happen in the next three months and why?
“What has lead you to this conclusion? Are there opposing views? If so, what are they and what are their merits?”
“What are the interests of the various parties and will this solution meet these needs?”
When it comes to coaching, the more questions the better. For those of us who are comfortable sharing our opinions and ideas, our challenge is to resist giving advice. Advice may be helpful at times, but the most effective coaching will facilitate the thinking process of the other person, which is best accomplished in the tradition of Socrates.
Thanks go to my husband Bill for contributing to today’s posting.