Harnessing the power of questions
by James Miller
Did you ever notice how the cops on the police dramas get so upset when the person they are interrogating asks them a question?
Who hasn’t heard a TV cop yell “I’ll ask the questions around here!”?
Ever wonder why it was so important that he ask the questions?
Asking a question gives you an advantage in three ways:
1) It causes the other person to come up with an answer.
From very early on we are taught to answer questions. Throughout our years of schooling, there were always people of authority, mostly teachers, and parents, who required us to answer a question. If we gave the right answer we received praise, if we answered incorrectly, we heard a “no”. This incessant questioning, while forcing us to learn, also ingrained a deep-seated need to be right.
It is this “need to be right” that drives us to answer questions today.
As soon as we hear a question, there is a reticular activation mechanism in our mind that starts searching for an answer. This focuses the mind to find an answer and detracts you from things such as creating a question of your own. It stops us from thinking outwardly and causes us to search inwardly for an answer.
If you want to see how motivated we are to answer questions, try this game:
You and a friend take turns asking each other questions as fast as possible. The questions don’t have to relate, or even make sense, but you can only ask a question. As soon as someone says anything other than a question, they lose.
Try it, you will see that this game shows how difficult it is to not answer a question that is asked of us.
2) Questions direct and control the conversation.
Questions require us to explain, which directs the flow of information. Once a topic has been changed it is awkward to change it without using some sort of segue.
In order to control and redirect the conversation you should get good at using a segue to transition to another topic.
Some of the segues I use most often are:
“I know this is off topic but,…..”
“By the way…”
“Before I forget….”
“I hate to interrupt but….”
“I’ll get to that in a second, but the first thing I need to know is…”
These phrases lighten the blow by acknowledging the impending change in topic.
The interesting part is that you can use them in lieu of answering a question to ask your own. This has the double impact of deflecting their question and redirecting the topic of conversation.
3) Questions buy you time.
When the other party is scrambling to put their information together in order to answer your question, you can be using the time to do your own due diligence.
One of my favorite Donald Trump stories is how he did this during negotiations on a building purchase.
Donald realized that he didn’t have all of the information he needed to continue with negotiations. Instead of revealing this point and asking for more time, he challenged the other party, asking if the knew the true history of the building they were trying to sell. The other party quickly ended the conversation and asked to get back to him at some other time.
Donald had no knowledge of any problems with the history of the building, and didn’t specifically state that he did, he just asked a question that gave him the time he needed to get his ducks in a row.