SocratesYou may well have heard of Socrates.  He was a renowned Greek Philosopher who had Plato as one of his pupils.  Socrates didn’t produce many great works –  he is, however, credited with bringing out great works and thinking in others.  Which gives some insight into why this facilitation method was named after him.

The Socratic Method is a group facilitation technique, working most effectively with groups of between 5-15 delegates.  Having said that, the principles underlying the method can be used in a training session of any groups size, you may just need to be a little flexible.

In its simplest terms, the Socratic Facilitation Method is very similar to coaching.  You use a lot of the same principles, essentially:

  • You need to have an understanding of what the end goal is.  What is the change that is needed from the learners?
  • Using this information you ask powerful questions of the group, to develop their thought process, attitude, understanding or beliefs to help them move from where they are now to where they want to be.
  • As the facilitator, you are there to ask questions.  Not give the answers.  Your role is to draw information out of the group.  Encourage them to listen to each other and remind them to focus on the end goal.
  • You would use silence to give learners time to digest questions or comments and reflect upon them.  Yes, silence can be awkward and uncomfortable, but eventually someone will speak.  Allowing silence in your session encourages people to think differently and perhaps more creatively about a subject or problem.  If they really struggle, then you can break your question down into chunks, but don’t jump the gun.  Alternatively, you could ask them why they think they are struggling to answer the question.
  • Throughout the whole session, you remain focused on what the end goal is and “what question can I ask to help them get there”.

The biggest difference in fact is that rather than working on a 1:1 basis you are working with a group.

When using this method, one of the key things to keep in mind is that learning is a journey and you are unlikely to get everyone to the same end point by the end of a half day or a day’s training session.  The Socrates method works so well because it allows individuals the opportunity to explore issues for themselves.  To question their current beliefs, attitudes, understandings and behaviours.  To think about what they need to do to get from where they are now to where they want to be.

This kind of process takes time.  It will not happen successfully over time. However it is a very powerful technique and you can support people to have real “lightbulb” moments, which in turn leads to true and lasting change.

Why don’t you commit to using this technique for at least one exercise in your next face-to-face training session?  I’d love it if you came back and let me know how you got on!

As ever, this has been a brief introduction to the topic.  If you would like to learn more, you might be interested in one of these links:

Until next time,


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