Every second we are asking ourselves ‘virtual questions’.

We don’t know we’re doing it till we know we are.

‘What shall I write next?’ is a question (VQ) that occurs to me right here. There’s a part of me that’s aware it’s asked that now of course – ‘Why have I just said that?’ (VQ) To prove a point, I suppose. ‘Who to?’(VQ) ‘Do I need a new paragraph?’ (VQ)

Whether we like it or not, VQ’s keep on punctuating our internal dialogue but we don’t know we’re asking them till it becomes an obsession to unpick things in this way. (‘So why do we do it? VQ) And it would prolong and intensify internal dialogue if we were to take account of every god-damned VQ we asked ourselves. It would become infernal dialogue…

However, it occurred to me that when I’m working with somebody, coaching, mentoring, or just awareness-raising, usually investigating Multiple-I’s, represented by bits of paper on the floor, I do have at the back of my mind, in a habitual kind of way, a range of possible questions I could ask to keep a flow going. Unless I make a formal list like the following they remain virtual questions but sometimes they turn into questions I ask a person out loud.

So, in the middle of one night last week, I got to asking myself, ‘What VQ’s do I ask myself while I’m mentoring, coaching, etc? (VQ)

The following questions are not necessarily in order of asking, nor are they necessarily connected together. Any of them might help everyday relationships!

■ Which ‘I’ shall we start with?
■ What part of an issue might we start with?
■ Where shall we start?
■ Was that a good place to start?
■ Where else?
■ Did it turn out to be an appropriate place to start?
■ Standing on a particular ‘I’ what do you see/hear/feel?
■ What does that say about you/anything?
■ What else is there?
■ What suggestions can I make to code what they say? To make it simpler…

■ What’s that got to do with it?
■ What’s that got to do with anything?
■ How does that fit?
■ Where does that get us?
■ Does that suggest a different direction?

■ Is it about time for them to take charge of this?
■ If I move a couple of pieces of paper will they follow suit?
■ Do the bits of paper form a system, a time-line or a set of clusters?
■ Could the bits of paper be made into a system or a time-line?
■ Would it help if…?
■ What question can I ask next?

■ Should we back-track now?
■ What would backtracking get us?
■ Might it help to go into Meta-I now?
■ What bodily configurations suggested internal movement?

■ Is there another way of seeing this?
■ Is it worth pursuing an alternative?
■ Is there another ‘I’ that might help out?
■ What other ‘I’ do you have that might be useful here?
■ What pattern is emerging?
■ What Emergent-I’s come up?
■ What if we explored this a bit more?
■ What would happen if they stood well away from the system?
■ What if they stood in the middle of the bits of paper?
■ Are they taking ownership of the bits of paper?
■ What if we moved the bits of paper further apart?
■ What if we moved the bits of paper closer together?
■ What is the distance between ‘I’s represented by the bits of paper?
■ What other ‘I’s might appear in the spaces?
■ Am I stepping into their ‘I’s to find out how they might be feeling etc?
■ Am I keeping my own autobiography out of it?
■ Would redefinitions help?
■ What will happen if they do x ?
■ How does this connect with that?
■ Does this go with that?

■ Are we getting anywhere?
■ How do they seem?
■ Are we getting to at least a temporary conclusion?
■ What would count as a conclusion?
■ Have we got as far as we can?
■ Are we done for the moment?
■ How much further might there be?
■ Should they pick up the bits of paper and write up their story?
■ Am I relating/empathising OK?
■ Have I always used their language?
■ Will they come back for more?
■ How much further might we go?
■ What have we created?
■ What is the pattern?
■ Does another approach suggest itself?
■ How was the experience?
■ What were the learnings?
■ Where to from here?
■ What’s the next step?
■ What will I need to do to follow this up?

15 thoughts on “VIRTUAL QUESTIONS (R12+)

  1. That’s interesting, of course.

    Leaving aside the glorious list and focusing on the notion of Virtual Questions.

    These don’t seem to be virtual to me, which of course is irrelevant, because it is you they are virtual to.

    But anyway, for my four penneth worth, they would appear not to be virtual (to have the essence or effect of being a question, but not the form) but to be what might be called tracking questions asked in order to assist in meeting an unverbalised desired outcome, or unstated but none the less vital (of course) value or belief or even asked in order to allay or in any event respond to a particular fear.

    I wonder what makes them virtual to you Colin?

    for example

    ‘What shall I write next?’ is a question (VQ) that occurs to me right here. There’s a part of me that’s aware it’s asked that now of course – ‘Why have I just said that?’ (VQ) To prove a point, I suppose. ‘Who to?’(VQ) ‘Do I need a new paragraph?’ (VQ)

    MIght be tracking questions one might ask oneself to ensure that a number of values, beliefs or some specific outcomes might be expressed, maintained or achieved.

    for example

    VQ1 What shall I write next? – might help maintain the value of writing clearly, writing something interesting, provocative or open ended and just as easily supports a desired outcome to produce something coherent. (which in itself reflects a value or two)

    or VQ1 could just as easily reflect a fear emanating from actually holding the value, e.g. I value clarity of expression, (to name but one) Fear – I fear I’m past it or muddled and therefore people may consider what I write to be garbage.

    or VQ1 could also reflect a belief – I believe the structure of the writing to be as important as the subject in order to ilicit the interest and interaction of others. i.e. It matters what I write.

    These are just examples of where the VQ’s might be eminating from. I am not stating this as a fact.

    To move to the list – To me, from own my perception, because that’s the only one the I that is writing can be sure of….although….

    Section 1 of the bullet points might all reflect the value of “being effective” when working with clients.

    Section 2 might all reflect “tracking questions” to keep you on track in expressing the belief that to be most effective, it is necessary that your work is/remains client oriented, and the value might be authenticity.

    You get the drift perhaps. My hypotheticals are not yours Colin, but I really don’t see these questions as virtual, I believe they serve a purpose, what that purpose is, is for you to discern perhaps……..

    The lists of questions for me seem also to reflect the calibrations and ecology checks one constantly makes in order to do the best job for this specific client? (Rather than simply trotting out techniques) They all reflect someone who cares deeply that what they do is being of the best value to the client.

    There is no doubt that the questions would help “everyday” relationships; I’m in a quandary here, the question virtual or not that remains unanswered for me is “what makes the questions virtual for you Colin?”


  2. Thanks so much for the gift of the question, Pat! (Thinks…) Ah! Right! Maybe as they stand in bald uncompromising text, letters ordered into could-be-meaningful words they certainly seem like tracking questions – I see that perfectly… (VQ Do I really?) In normal circumstances I would not have defined the last question in brackets explicitly – it would have remained a VQ – I would have just got on with typing away with the next thing I thought of, viz, the distinction between VQ’s & TQ’s. ‘Do I really?’ only becomes a TQ in the context of trying to figure out why I think the questions in the Glob are VQ’s (but not exclusively so!) To achieve clarity, as you say.

    Very valuable, I think. While I was writing the Glob I was wondering about when a VQ becomes a TQ (though I would not then have used the term but it’s very accurate!) but, not having the ease of the term, I did not address the issue. Plus it was 3am when I drew up the list…

    How did the Glob come about? My son has to travel 200 miles a day by car to ‘work’ and I’m trying to help him think about other ways of earning money. I no longer (if I ever did) have the entrepreneurial drive or enthusiasm to promote coaching with Multiple-I’s but I’m sure he might make a go of it. So we worked together for a couple of days last week: I ran him through some processes involving bits of paper with ‘I’s written on them. When he ran something with me I realised that he didn’t have the flow of questions in his head that I imagine I have (TQ’s, if you like) but I also realised that I don’t have a mechanical checklist of questions; over the years I’ve built up a repertoire of things that work which I keep at the back of my mind; because that’s where I keep them they are VQ’s whether they activate themselves depends on what happens next. While I’m working I really have no idea what’s going to come next – I rely on feedback then something pops out of the repertoire. In fact I deliberately make my mind a blank insofaras that’s ever possible. Just looked up at my wall – SFUMATO = one of Leonardo da Vinci’s 7 excellent habits – BE LIKE SMOKE. Wild Beast Smoke, perhaps. Maybe that’s why I think of the questions as virtual till they become TQ’s. An example of a question that could quite easily become a TQ (one spoken out loud) is Is there another way of seeing this? That’s a VQ for me as it is before I make it explicit or speak it out loud; I just don’t know I’m asking it when my mind’s a blank (as it were).

    Perhaps it’s the organic nature of an exchange that makes me think my list first of all consists of VQ’s (VQ: why on earth does that matter?) Organicity has for a long time been important to me (I’m pretty certain it is for you, Pat! Though you might not have called it that?) Normally I would not have paused to insert a VQ there but I recognise now that it is a TQ – it wouldn’t have been if I’d just been scribing away.

    I suppose now (but not before) quite clearly that inner dialoh=gue (*diklexic typo but rather beautiful) works on a sliding scale – it’s analogue rather than digital VQ➔TQ and vice-versa. TQ: When does a VQ become a TQ? When one’s working a conscious hunch maybe…

    So ‘What shall I write next?’ might well be a TQ if I hadn’t have had to do a swift hunt in the back of my VQ repertoire to try to make sense at this point! And I’d slide the analogic gauge along so I’d arrive at a TQ to deliberately ‘ensure that a number of values, beliefs or some specific outcomes might be expressed, maintained or achieved’ just as you say!

    And your provisional sectionalising of my questions is quite right. I did do a bit of jiggling to the list I drew up at 3am one morning but I ran out of steam.

    I’m not normally aware of asking What shall I write next? I just bash on & the question remains a VQ – ie not explicitly asked… and then produce garbage! And it certainly does reflect the desire to arrive at some kind of clarity. Yes, the question does hold a lot of things in it – maybe that’s the value of a VQ : it doesn’t settle anywhere – it’s not dogmatic but open and organic, allows for anything to happen, artful vagueness (of course!) That way VQ’s have a very definite purpose in helping things along openly, without imposition of personal autobiography, eg.

    I get your drift! (VQ: Do I ever get anybody’s drift?)

    Over to you!


    1. Yep – Organicity is a perfect word for it. I haven’t called it that before, but probably will now. SO if I understand you correctly, TQ’s are VQ’s at the storage/bubbling stage. Given that I think we agree both are generated spontaneously during the course of whatever. SFUMATO exactly.

      You hold that TQ’s for you, might come about as a consequence of speaking VQ’s aloud. You see that’s where I come a cropper. Your VQ’s may not be externally verbalised, and they remain VQ’s to you because you don’t know which of them is going to arise until the moment of activation. And it is the non-deliberate nature of them which is important to you and makes the distinction. Even so, to me they are still all TQ’s because at some point in the past, we have asked them either of ourselves or others.

      I think you are asserting (and why does it matter to either of us anyway) that they are VQ’s because although you are aware that the questions exist, you may not necessarily be aware of which question you might be about to ask, until it is asked Aha….

      Sorry you said that didn’t you.

      “because that’s where I keep them they are VQ’s whether they activate themselves depends on what happens next”.

      There is a sort of unconscious competence thing occurring perhaps.

      The reason I feel VQ’s and TQ’s are both the same, in that they come out of deeply held values, beliefs etc., and they are different (apparently), is that the energetic quality of the question is the same (from my perspective) no matter where it is in ones conscious awareness at any given moment. Both types of questions exist in one.

      I cannot count the number of times someone has responded in some way to the energetic quality of a question not explicitly asked – sometimes I only become aware of the question when the person has already responded to the energetic quality of it, even though that has not yet for me formed itself into internal dialogue let alone got as far as verbalisation. I’ve given up questioning the process, because it happens too often, I smile inside and sometimes I even laugh out loud. (although probably not so much with clients).

      Much as I am now. Perhaps I’m just nuts. And we can agree to differ.

      I dare say it has something to do with mirror neurons, somatic markers and the like. ANd I think Mr Gilligan would call it working in Generative trance.

      I do appreciate where you are coming from, surprising what lurks in the other than conscious environment is it not?

      Thanks for your glob. Such Fun!


  3. Pat – Waking in the middle of the night with diverticulitic discomfort, it suddenly occurred to me that a more simple answer than the one I churned out yesterday could have been that VQ’s exist in the bottom circuit of the Figure of Eight, pre-verbal possibilities, no doubt deriving from prior existential engagements, as you say, while TQ’s come from the top circuit.

    That’s another way of saying what I said in the preface: ‘Unless I make a formal list [like in the Glob] they remain virtual questions but sometimes they turn into questions I ask a person out loud…’ which I can now call TQ’s ! Ta!

    You say: I think you are asserting (and why does it matter to either of us anyway) that they are VQ’s because although you are aware that the questions exist, you may not necessarily be aware of which question you might be about to ask, until it is asked Aha….

    I think that’s the difference! I can sit down and list some questions in the cold light of night and they may appear (even to me when I look at them from a certain angle) to be TQ’s because they are thought out but in a set-to with somebody there are no questions till some appropriate juncture; they are VQ’s because they are other-than-conscious.

    It’s like haiku-writing: a haiku comes from some pre-verbal unsource; it has to be put into words to be capable of being classed as a haiku.



    1. Well since you mention it, whilst in zone out mode yesterday evening, not quite awake not quite asleep – the phrase “Latent TQ’s” sprung to mind.

      It goes – Latent TQ (lurking/residual/) > TQ Either conscious internal dialogue or conscious external dialogue.

      I think we’re actually talking about the same thing.

      I prefer to think of my challenge to the term virtual as seeking out the specific in order to gain maximum understanding, whereas a.n. other might regard it as pedantry.

      Is there a difference in LTQ’s that become TQ’s and questions relating to whether or not to make a cup of tea? is that still a tracking question relating to a value, belief, fear etc. At some point I believe it is – there is always a reason behind asking a question at all. The question is in some way connected to something of importance to the person asking it.

      For instance on thinking about it as a write, my question “what makes the questions virtual for you Colin?” might be connected to my own aforementioned apparent aversion/ambivalence to ambiguity. Crikey!


  4. I always believe in ‘…seeking out the specific in order to gain maximum understanding…’ If that’s pedantry, so be it! It’s quite possible that we’re talking about a very similar thing. Is there not an other-than-conscious non-verbal internal dialogue though?

    So for me there’s a smoothish analogue slide between ‘other-than-conscious non-verbal internal dialogue’ (VQ) right through to the spoken word (TQ).

    I love ambiguity! All the time!


    1. Yes absolutely from LTQ to TQ that’s what I meant to say in para 2 above the above!

      I’ve just put the washing out in the cold and frosty sunshine, had some fun and now I must get on with the decorating.

      What would happen If I listed the LTQ’s for me in that sentence alone? What if I didn’t?

      Although in some contexts awareness of these questions is undoubtebly extremely useful, I venture to suggest that if one were to make a habit of it, Paralysis by analysis come to mind and probably to body too. (therein lies another thread but I’m not going to go there at this moment).

      I suppose the fact is that these questions, the LTQ’s I mean, (tee hee) have been asked by us so often over time, in some form, that they can usually happily get on with their work undisturbed. (at the back of the mind, wherever that is) It is only when we become aware that they are other than life enhancing (in what passes for normal everyday life) that we might consiously pay them attention.

      Thanks for the fun. Ta tah.


      1. Shouldn’t I be doing the decorating? Should I be out here in the cold? Should I be having fun? What will the lord & master have to say about my lack of progress? Do I really want to be doing decorating? What if I didn’t bother? Why haven’t I made a list of LTQ’s? Will CB do it for me? What if he didn’t/did? Paralysis by analysis!

        Yes, this is the other way round line: we old lags have brought the VQ’s out into the open to play so often that they’ve just become habit or second nature


  5. Years ago, when I was in the business of coaching, a number of training resources I relied upon featured lists of what were euphemistically called “powerful questions” to ask a client during a coaching session. None of those lists, in my recollection (always a bit faulty, and getting more so everyday, alas – but nonetheless – onward!), had near the power and usefulness of the questions in your list, Colin! If I were still coaching clients, I would print out this post and keep it in my office for ready reference before each session.

    And thanks to you and Pat for the witty repartee of your discussion above – reading it was akin to watching two skillful dancers execute a complex bit of choreography with practiced, skillful ease.



  6. As a kind of conclusion (!) I wondered if it might be worthwhile adding this:-

    The concept of VQ’s first hit my brain during an afternoon with Robert Dilts. Sowing a pre-supposition, he said, “We’re asking ourselves questions all the time though we don’t know it till we know it…” Something like that… What to do next? Shall I shift in the chair? Shall I scratch my head? Shall I lean forward? Shall I put my hand to my mouth in Rodin thinking mode? Shall I look out of the window? Shall I go and make a cuppa? VQ’s that never actually get asked because normally we just get on with whatever we are doing though we could slow everything down and insert the questions, punctuate our being with them. It would slow things down considerably.

    Then he said, “There are different kinds of VQ’s – debilitating & life-enhancing ones are what we could focus on this afternoon…” Or something like that…

    He said (roughly), “You could for example commence a day’s teaching without realising that you’re asking yourself: what problems am I going to encounter today? That would be kind of life-debilitating. Alternatively you might be asking yourself, quite without realising it: what stimulation am I going to get today? Which would probably be life-enhancing. It would make a difference to outcomes…”

    We spent the whole afternoon thinking of all kinds of situations and figuring out & listing what VQ’s we typically asked ourselves. We spent a bit of time categorising the VQ’s under the headings ‘life-enhancing’, ‘life-debilitating’ and ‘others’. The clinch question Robert asked was, “So it might be useful if you could come to some conclusion about the kinds of VQ’s that for you would be exceptionally life-enhancing… What would be the very most life-enhancing?” Or something like that.

    After much talk and trying on for size with others, I found that the most generative VQ I already worked with was HOW CAN I CONNECT THIS WITH THAT? I did not know before that afternoon that that was how I in fact functioned when I was on Top Form. Having decided on the VQ with the maximum leverage as they say we were encouraged to think of all the times when it might work for us. From then on, writing poems, running a training, doing the cooking, relating to grand-children, doing paintings, writing music, I noticed that HOW CAN I CONNECT THIS WITH THAT? is pretty well all I ever ask and it has ramifications. I never ask the question but I pre-suppose its existence; I just operate as though it were being asked all the time. All the time? Yes, all the time! ‘This’ & ‘That’ of course signify a multitude of different things, concrete, abstract, moving, static on and on.

    Bringing that VQ up from the bottom of the Figure of Eight (qv) was my major enlightenment of the 1990’s!


    1. Every post I’ve ever read on your blog, Colin, does indeed demonstrate your gift for pointing out connections where the rest of us (or, at least, I – shouldn’t speak for your other readers!) would otherwise fail to detect them. Thanks for this insight into the methodology that underlies your skills.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.