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Chunking Questions


Techniques > Questioning > Chunking Questions

Chunking down | Chunking up | Up and down | See also


Chunking is a simple technique to use during questioning to vary the level of detail of information you get.

Chunking down

Sometimes the person you are talking with is speaking at a very high level, covering general ideas and themes. Leaders often like to think this way, with grand plans and visions.

Sometimes you deliberately started this way, getting a big picture before you dive into detail.

Chunking down is getting more detail by probing for more information about the high-level information you already have. The goal is to find out more, fill in the empty gaps in your picture, test the reality of the situation, and so on.

The more you ask chunking questions, the more you will find further detail. Keep going and you'll soon end up in the weeds. In fact if you go too deep, you can get lost. A tip: try to stay within three chunking levels for most of the time, digging deeper only on topics of particular interest where you want to bottom out the subject.

Chunk down by asking questions such as:

  • How did you that?
  • Why did that happen?
  • What happened about...?
  • What, specifically,...
  • Tell me more about...
  • What is the root cause of all this?

Chunking up

Sometimes the person you are talking with is already down in the details. Some people (most engineers, for example) are happiest when they have their teeth sunk into the grit of a tangible problem. Yet it can also help them if they come up for air some time and see the big picture -- and maybe find they were digging in the wrong place...

To chunk up, you are doing the opposite of chunking down - looking for a more generalized understanding. This includes looking for overall purpose, meaning, linkages, etc.

Chunk up by asking questions such as:

  • What does this mean?
  • Let's look at the bigger picture...
  • How does that relate to...?
  • What are we trying to achieve here?
  • Who is this for? What do they really want?

Up and down

You can use both methods together as a way of building a broad understanding. For example:

  1. Start at a high level of chunking to define the initial problem.
  2. Chunk down to find possible project goals.
  3. Chunk up to review and agree the project.
  4. Chunk down to build an understanding of the problem.
  5. Chunk up to look for problems in the overall system.
  6. Chunk down to find specific actions to address.
  7. etc.

See also

Probing, Funnel questioning

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