Rethinking Peter Block’s Questions

For a long time I have been an admirer of Peter Block. His works Flawless Consulting, The Answer to How is Yes! and Community have long been on my recommended reading list.

Especially intriguing to me have been the six transformations of questions that he posits in The Answer to How. Here they are as he sees them:

How do you do it? What is the refusal I have been postponing?
How long will it take? What is the commitment I am willing to make?
How much does it cost? What is the price I am willing to pay?
How do you get those people to change? What is my contribution to the problem?
How do you measure it? What is the crossroads at which I find myself?
How have others done it successfully? What do we want to create together?

Block’s general thesis is that while the How-based questions are important and need to be answered, the problem is that when they are asked and answered too early in the consulting process they tend to be a defensive  mechanism against change and, therefore, they stifle creativity and innovation. According to Peter Block a great consultant is one who is able to shift the dialogue to the What-based questions first and later return, if needed, to the How-based.

With all of this, I agree. However, after having spent about seven years teaching these as is, I am ready (and perhaps bold enough) to recommend a couple of changes to the What-based questions.

First, in place of “What is the price I am willing to pay?” I suggest the following: “What is the value of it to me?” After much thought, I believe this is the better question because if focuses on the primary idea of perceived value. As we know price is derived from perceived value, so looking at price is incorrect because it presupposes value.

Second, in place of “What is the crossroads at which I find myself?” I suggest, “What is the judgment I need to make?” Unlike the first, I believe I am still completely in alignment with Block on this idea and my change is more in semantics. However, I like this question better because a) it is easier to understand and b) it is in alignment with my mantra much written about on this blog that all measurements are judgments in disguise.

If you find this post confusing, might I suggest that you read The Answer to How. It is truly one of the best books on the subject of consulting ever written.


  1. As someone who has been part of the A Small Group community for more than five years, I appreciate what you have to say about Peter’s work.

    Regarding all the questions, I think you are moving in the right direction to create your own. It has been my experience to watch us(ASG) play with the questions as we have used them more. They are meant to be living and evolving.

    What I have observed is that Peter continues to refine the questions – they are not set in stone. Instead, it is the quest to find a better phrasing of the question – the one that resonates and takes us to a deeper place…that has challenged me.

    Powerful questions are: ambiguous, personal, and anxiety provoking.

    They are not meant to allow for easy answers – but the quest is to identify what “you” really think and feel about the issue.

    When you say you find your question, “What is the judgement I need to make?” as easier to understand.

    My question would be, “why is that important to you?”

  2. Elaine, thanks for your comment and question. I am honored to have you comment.

    It is important for me because I believe my version of the question gets to the essence of the issue. Namely, that a judgment needs to be made about something, not a measurement. To me the term “crossroads” is too ambiguous a word. I believe, however, that I have preserved the ambiguity of the question itself.

  3. Thanks, Michelle.

    I think Elaine was actually asking me why it was important that the question be easier to understand. She and Peter Block contend that questions should be somewhat ambiguous.

  4. Hi Michelle , Thanks for joining the conversation. Ed is correct – I was responding to his statement regarding his question “is easier to understand.”

    Everyone has to find what works for them. The beauty of the ambiguous, personal, and anxiety provoking question is that there is no ONE answer…no right answer.

    I can only respond from my years of experience of responding to and crafting my own powerful questions with Peter and the A Small Group community. We are “learning” community and appreciate people new to the process sharing their insights and experience with the process.

    Because I don’t know Ed, I did not take my conversation with Ed further. But, if Ed and I were in a small group and had built relationship, I would have followed his response, “It is important for me because I believe my version of the question gets to the essence of the issue. Namely, that a judgment needs to be made about something, not a measurement.”

    with another, “and why is that important to you?” Inviting Ed to go a little deeper.

    It is always an invitation to respond to the question or not.

    Each level of asking allows the speaker to choose whether or not they want to reveal more of who they are and what they are thinking and feeling about the topic at hand.

    Sometimes if the speaker trusts the listener and is willing to risk a few more layers of the “why is that important to you or why does that matter to you?” both speaker and listener can be surprised by the speaker?s discovery of a deeper reason for why it is important to them.

    It is very powerful and beautiful when that happens.

    To respond to your question of “what is important to you?” It is easier for me to simply say, what is important to me is to have a real conversation.

    But this leaves you and I, both, still not knowing ?why? this is important to me.

    I prefer questions that are not easily understood because they provoke me and others to bring ourselves to the response by delving deep into ourselves to discover “why that is important to me or you?”.

    Less ambiguous questions allow me off the hook and allow me to give an answer that doesn’t reveal who I am or increase our connection in quite the same way.

    Thanks for your doubts and reservations about my response. It has helped me think more clearly about why I value these questions.

  5. Me, again. Upon re-reading my response to Michelle – I wanted to clarify one part of my response.

    When I say I can only respond from my experience with this work – it also means, I am not saying that makes my experience the only way of doing this. Hearing other people’s doubts and reservations is very helpful in keeping it alive and evolving. Thanks, Michelle.

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