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  • Emma Stenström

65 students to hop into the unknown

Updated: Mar 10

Right now, 65 international master students are bubble-hopping. They

are meeting with someone from another bubble. They use the skills

they have learned and will reflect on the meeting in an essay, and take

their learnings further in a short film.

Bubble brief at Stockholm School of Economics before Covid. Before hopping the students have been taught some basic theories about

social capital, attention economy, and cognitive bias, etc. They have been

trained in skills like listening, sharing, and, in particular, asking questions.

We are super curious about the outcome. In the next newsletter, we will

share what happened and what the students, and we, learned.

It is not the first time we ask students to bubble-hop. Close to 800 students

have bubble-hopped and reflected about it by now. The majority of them

have been both surprised and positive. We now have a team of five

teachers at Stockholm School of Economics, who knows how to run a

bubble-hopping assignment.

Parallel with teaching, I am writing the “Bubble Book”. Right now, I am

focusing on the skill of asking questions. The first-hand experiences from

the students are valuable.

There is a growing body of research showing how important questions are

if we want to bridge divides. The right kind of questions are crucial for

building trust in a meeting and to reach new understanding.


Valuable examples

- Start with some easy questions to create connection, before you move

into more open-ended ones. Don’t forget to ask follow-up questions. Ask for

concrete examples, situations, and experiences.

- Don´t ask to prove the other person is wrong. Find instead out how he/she

came to that conclusion or opinion. Try to understand the motives behind –

and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

- Do the same with the other person. Ask questions that might put them in

your shoes, see your perspective.

- Don’t shy away for the complex. Avoid easy dichotomies like the X vs. Y,

black or white-arguing. Making things more complex is known to be one of

the most important thing in conversations that can reach across divides.


- Try to repeat what you have heard and ask if you have understood it

correctly. Ask if something is missing. This “looping” builds trust. The other

feel heard and you get a receipt that you have understood.

- Remember that silent is the anagram of listen. Don’t bomb with questions.

Avoid to interrogate. Make space for answers. Let people think. And do the

same with yourself, think before asking.


All this is easier said than done, especially when you are in the midst of a

difficult conversation or just nervous or in a hurry. The advice is to practice

asking questions before you bubble-hop. Or at any occasion for that matter.

If you cannot remember all the advice above, don’t worry. We usually stick with question areas that work as a reminder:

1. Explore motive. Try to understand the motives behind the other

person’s standpoint. Why has something become so important to the other

person?

2. Shift perspectives. Reflect on each other’s feelings and situations. How

does the other person feel when you share your story? And the other way

around: ask yourself how you would reason, if you were in the other

person’s situation.

3. Move forward. Find common ground and a way forward. How could

you, together, solve the problem you are talking about? What can we do

next?

The order of questions depends on the situation and conversation. Be

prepared to improvise. And remember to not only ask the other person, but

also ask yourself!

Finally, if you think questions are as interesting as we do, there are a lot of

resources on how to ask better ones. Here are some we like to go to for inspiration:

Warren Berger calls himself a “questionologist”, has written several books

about questions.

Hal Gregersen, Exceutive Director of MIT Learning Center, knows a lot

about the role questions can play in innovation and organizations.

Amanda Ripley – 22 questions that ‘Complicate the Narrative’, a foundation

for a new movement of constructive journalism.

What are your favorite sources when it comes to questions? What is your

advice?

emma.stenstrom@hhs.se

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