Probing skills: introduction

Probing skills usually express your perspective. When you probe, you are responding from your frame of reference, and is usually done when seeking information or wanting to influence the direction of a session.

Probes state your perception of what is important to deal with. When using probes, the control over the content of the conversation is shifted away from the client to you. You become relatively more directive than when you are reflecting, paraphrasing or summarising, which is fine as long as you use probes sensitively and thoughtfully. However, if you use probing too much, it may lead to client passivity and appear like an interrogation rather than a conversation.

Without probing skills, however, sessions can become vague and lack direction. Probing skills can:

  • Help clients to focus and to be specific
  • Assist information-gathering
  • Open up an area of concern or issue with the client

Overuse of probing can:

  • Increase your control you follow your own agenda. This can lead to the client being passive and expecting you to provide a solution or answer
  • ‘Skew’ the exploration the session may become a question-and-answer session in which little shared understanding is developed. You may become preoccupied with what to ask rather than attending and listening to the client.

There are various probing skills:

  • Open questions
  • Hypothetical questions
  • Unhelpful questions
  • Making statements