A piece from a poem titled “The Elephant’s Child” written by Rudyard Kipling. It literally OPENS up opportunities to practice a key skill as part of a communication skills activity as well as allied skills in active listening and observation.
- Practicing communication, active listening, and observation skills
Extract from a poem
“I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”
How to use the extract in this activity:
The activity focuses on the use of Kipling’s six OPEN questions rather than closed, hypothetical and supplementary inquiries which are:
This activity works best with no more than 12 participants. It can be widely utilized for a range of other training scenarios such as advocacy, assertiveness, influencing and anything linked to interview preparation.
Step By Step Procedures
- Arrange your group in a horseshoe -tabled or untabled
- Inform them that you going to practice the use of open questions which will test their listening and observational skills as well as the use of Kipling’s six open questions. Ensure that you display the extract from the poem on a flipchart or PowerPoint slide. Keep them visible throughout the activity.
- Ask for a volunteer
- The volunteer has to leave the room and in their absence, the group must decide something they want to know about the volunteer, e.g. favorite food or last holiday experience. Something specific and within the bounds of privacy and decency!
- When the group has decided on their secret question, invite the volunteer back in to sit at the front. He or she must make a statement – anything. So let’s suppose the group wants to know her/his favorite wine. Let’s say its Merlot. The volunteer does not know this is the topic. He/She makes a random statement, e.g. “On my way here today I saw a squirrel“.
- The volunteer then turns to the first person in the horseshoe. That person can ask any OPEN question but it has to be based on the last thing that comes out of the volunteer’s mouth and any subsequent question must include any or all of the last words to come out of the mouth of the volunteer.
- So let’s imagine the run:
- First participant: – What color was the squirrel?
- Volunteer: Grey
- Second participant: What other colors are there besides grey?
- Volunteer: Red
- Third participant: What other things are RED?
- Volunteer: Apples/Blood/Robins/Traffic Lights
- Fourth participant: (DISASTER COMING) Do you like Robins?
- Volunteer: YES! – (Disaster – a closed question has been put. Somebody was not listening but help is at hand with Number 5)
- Fifth participant: When you say YES, what do you mean? (forcing Volunteer to open up)
- Volunteer: I like red things, especially my favorite wine color
- Sixth participant: What is your favorite wine?
- Volunteer: Merlot.
It won’t be as easy as this – it might go around the table twice. You might have to blow the whistle and declare the volunteer the winner. It can get competitive. Tons of industrial language. But you will soon see who is quick on the feet/deft/creative/active listener/observer etc.
Some simple rules:
- The volunteer must always tell the truth but if they detect or suspect the content of the secret question they have a mandate to be as difficult as they like with evasive or short answers. This will further test the interviewer’s skills.
- People are not allowed to go out of sequence or confer. You will see people at one end of the table dying to jump in.