The Art of Asking Good Questions With the Fact Finder

book excerpt team alignment toolkit Sep 16, 2020

By Stefano Mastrogiacomo

Book excerpt adapted by Matthew Woodward


A big problem that we often see out in the field is that we humans have a tendency to make a lot of assumptions.

Assumptions stem in our imagination and our willingness to accept something as true without question or proof. This can be problematic for a variety of reasons. In work teams they can primarily grow a feeling of unfairness, undermine mutual trust and turn fantasy into unnecessary conflict.


"The worst distance between two people

is misunderstanding."

What is an assumption and what is a fact?

Assumption: something that you accept as true without question or proof. Also described as second-order realities by psychologists.


Fact: something that is known to have happened or to exist. Also described as first-order reality by psychologists.


We easily confuse facts and assumptions

Why don’t we always refer to tangible facts and experiences rather than building cathedrals of assumptions? Why is this happening in so many teams across the globe? Because we need to make sense of what we experience. And we easily omit and distort information when our embedded sense-making process (Kourilsky, 2014) is triggered. That process can be broken down into three main stages:

  1. Perception: We start by perceiving a situation or we make an experience.
  2. Interpretation: We give this situation an interpretation, a meaning or we make a hypothesis.
  3. Evaluation: Finally, we evaluate, we judge or even state rules in its regard.

Mixing these 3 levels as we speak can lead us directly into one (or several) of the 5 following communication traps:

  • Unclear facts or experiences: Absence of key information in the description.
  • Generalizations: When we turn a particular case into a universal law.
  • Assumptions: Creative interpretations of an experience or situation.
  • Limitations: Imaginary rules and obligations inferred from the situation.
  • Judgements: Individual evaluations of a thing, a situation or a person.

So, how can we avoid falling into these communication traps and prevent any unnecessary tension in the team?

By asking better questions. To be more precise, by asking clarification questions that help everyone get back to the original facts and experiences hidden behind assumptions, judgements, generalizations and so on.


The Fact Finder

The Fact Finder helps avoid escalations by suggesting a set of neutral questions to inquire and understand the first-order realities (facts) hidden behind unproductive second-order statements (assumptions). This gives a chance to others to reformulate their thinking more accurately and be understood.

As a team member you can use the Fact Finder to:

  1. Inquire like a coach or a journalist: Identify and overcome the typical language traps.
  2. Gain better information & decision making: Clarify what is said, what others are saying and also what you are saying.
  3. Save time & effort: Make exchanges shorter and more efficient.

Mastery of the Fact Finder sends positive signals in terms of psychological safety it helps speakers demonstrate genuine interest to the listeners, apply professional inquiry techniques to improve understanding and solve problems together.


How to Apply the tool

Use of the Fact Finder occurs in two steps:

  1. Hear: identify the trap: are you hearing an assumption, a limitation, a generalization, a judgment or incomplete facts?
  2. Ask: use one of the suggested clarifying questions to bring the conversation back to the center, i.e. complete facts and experiences.



Some Examples


These clarification questions are neutral -they do not convey any form of judgment- and open -they don’t trigger closed binary responses (yes/no).

A good way to get to grips with the tool is to concentrate on one communication trap every day. One to two weeks of practice will be enough to memorize the tool and ask questions like a pro!




Origins of The Fact Finder

The Fact Finder has its roots in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a therapeutic communication approach developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler in the 70s. Grinder and Bandler developed a powerful questioning framework they coined the "meta-model".

Implementing the meta-model revealed to be challenging and that led the coach Alain Cayrol to develop a more applicable version coined the Language Compass. Subsequently, the tool has been completed and developed by Françoise Kourilsky, the French psychologist that inspired the Fact Finder presented in the book.



Kourilsky, F. (2014). Du désir au plaisir de changer: le coaching du changement. Dunod.



Illustrations by Severine Assous.