This article focuses on making people like you with the questions that you ask. The points below are meant to be reminders for you on your journey of mastering the implicit messages you send with questions you ask. The overall focus is to play to your audience’s best interests with the questions you ask them. You’ll go on to realize that even the hardest-hitting questions can be asked in a way which supplement the pride of the individuals you ask them to.
Practice: Recognizing Implicit Messages in Others’ Questions
Remember that time you were asked something along the lines of, “Are you going to wear that to the Christmas party?” This is a question which carries implicit meaning in regards to the situation at hand. If you dressed in a skimpy outfit, the person asking may be trying to tell you to tone it down a bit. If you put on your grandfather’s forty year-old cardigan in an effort to bring back the 70’s, then that person may be trying to save you some embarrassment.
In order to understand the effect implicit messages of your own have on others, begin analyzing the implicit messages others send in their questions to you first. Form a habit of reading between the lines when you hear questions being traded in everyday life. You’d be surprised how much unspoken dialogue is communicated through the questions that they ask. All questions are comprised of what is asked at face value, as well as what is implied.
The easy way to find the implicit messages in the questions that come your way is to analyze what gave birth to those questions. Put yourself in the mind of the person asking you a question. What were the triggers for their inquiry on the subject at hand? What patterns of thought did they follow in order to come up with the question which they voiced? Did they assume fault on your part? Did they form an opinion prior to asking the question? Are they asking a question they already know the answer to? Sometimes these messages may in fact be malicious, but most of the time they are not. In your analysis of the questions others ask, remember that people don’t often consider the way they phrase their questions. Their questions will often be riddled with assumptions. Simply analyze, and know what not to do. With that being said, the points below will help your attempts to ask questions which make people like you.
Looking Out for the Best Interest of Your Subject
Most people aren’t well versed in how the messages they send with the questions they ask affect those they ask the questions to. They are sloppy with their implicit messages. Notice times when people ask innocent questions only to offend the people they ask those questions to.
A focal point behind the questions you ask should be an analysis of whether the receiver’s best interest is taken into account. Ask questions for which the affirmative answer would result in a positive effect on the individual’s pride. Don’t frame questions for which the answer, “Yes,” results in a hit to someone’s pride.
For example, the following questions are both a reaction to a friend of yours getting new headphones for their commute to work:
- “Did you spend a lot on those?”
- “Were those a better deal than the others you saw?”
Both questions above are an attempt to inquire about the price of the headphones. The first question however, frames the question in a negative light. Spending a lot is seen as a negative thing by most. People yearn to get a good deal. By asking a question for which the answer, “Yes,” results in a negative perception doesn’t entice the individual you ask that question to like you.
The second question above, is worded with the best interest of the individual you’re talking to in mind. You’d be throwing up an easy pitch for the person answering to hit out of the park. The answer, “Yes,” to question # 2 above, results in the notion that they found a good deal on the headphones. It would play to the pride of the individual, and they’d be likelier to see you in a positive light for asking questions with their best interest in mind.
The Strategic Attribution of Fault
Another thing to keep in mind, is questions for which the answer will result in the allocation of blame. Remember, people don’t like to be blamed for things. Thereby ask questions which give them the ability to divert blame whenever possible.
For example, rather than asking the local convenience store manager if he forgot to order your favorite BBQ chips, ask whether the supplier ran out of stock. In that scenario, you’d attribute blame to the supplier and would give the manager of the store an out, unless he decides to attribute blame to himself.
Another example is asking your coworker why they’re late to a morning team meeting. Rather than asking, “Did you sleep past your alarm?” You’d be better received if you attributed blame to an external factor: “Was there an accident on the freeway this morning?”
By giving people an out in the question that you ask, you’d encourage them to perceive you as being on their side. Rather than being known as the person who asks incriminating questions, you’d be known as the one who always strives to rid those you speak with of fault.