What's happening? Here's 4 Clarifying Questions To Assess Just About Anything

[Tips & Tools Series]

We've all been there.

Whether you are hoping to help someone else or trying to figure things out for yourself, being puzzled or confused about how to process something is difficult.

In Tom Paterson's STRATOP process he uses 4 clarifying questions that can bring clarity set anyone up for success.


I've personally used these questions to better understand everything from relational interactions to evaluating organizational structure. They are especially valuable for reviewing events and systems and can be used for family, ministry, or work interactions.

BUT WAIT - before you read any further. Pause a moment and pick an actual item you would like to assess. It could be just about anything. Think of a relationship, situation, or even an event where you would like to have a better understanding of what is going on.

Okay - got it? 

Now you can read on!

1) What's right?

Verbalizing what is good about the situation is a healthy and valuable place to start! When evaluating something it can be all too easy to skip the good and go for focusing only on what needs to be changed.

When you stub your toe, your focus is not on the fact that you can walk but on the pain in your toe. The pain is real, but so is your ability to walk. The pain needs to be addressed, but it's not the only thing happening.

The Action Step for "What's right?" is to celebrate and magnify!

2) What's wrong?

Ever just have a gut sense that something isn't right. Taking the time and effort to verbalize what that sense is telling you can make all the difference. Coaching can help someone identify what's troubling them and then choose how, or whether, to address the situation.

If I am honest, I'm pretty good at seeing flaws. It's just how I am built. I'm kind of skilled at seeing how things should be, BUT that doesn't mean that whatever I see should be addressed. Here's why:

Sometimes I am wrong.

Sometimes I just need to forgive as I have been forgiven. (1 Peter 4:8)

And yet, sometimes I need to call it out.

Coaching helps me clarify what's next.

The Action Step for "What's wrong?" is two-fold:  first, decide whether it needs to be released or addressed.  (Either way, working from a place of forgiveness is always appropriate.) Then, if it needs to be addressed the next question is, "What needs to change?" or "How can we fix it?"

3) What's missing?

You don't know what you don't know - so ask around. "What could we do be make this even better?"

Glean data from several types of people - leaders, staff, and veterans have meaningful buy-in, but also ask new people. 

If you are not assessing an event but a situation or relational interaction ask a close unbiased friend or talk it through with a trusted coach.

The Action Step for "What's missing?" is simply to find a way to add it in!

4) What's confused?

Maybe there is miscommunication. Or perhaps there have been assumptions made. Whatever the cause, if people are confused about what happened it's not likely to resolve without intentionality.

The Action Step for "What's confused?" is to clarify. 

We like to promote "clariphrasing"* at Bridges Coaching. It's a simple request to repeat back what was being communicated. This lets both parties know there was an actual transfer of thoughts or emotions. 

This process works best interpersonally.

For meetings or event confusion, writing down and assigning action steps or SMART goals could make all the difference. 

So there you have it.

Most recently I have used the 4 Helpfuls personally to work through an awkward interaction, but also to help coachees see different sides of their situation.

What's your situation? How would you answer each of the 4 Helpfuls or where could you use them to help someone else?


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Hope that was helpful ;)


*I first heard the word "clariphrase" at a TACT retreat. TACT stands for Teens and Conflict Together. Click the link for a free ebook.


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