|Alexa, Siri, Google, and all programs that answer questions, have mechanisms that determine the answers. If you’re like me, you largely assume they are accurate, without us knowing the reference material or checking further. We actually do this in our daily lives – pose questions to friends, colleagues, and clients, about stuff we’re curious about, and receive responses we don’t check for accuracy or congruence.
Have you ever wondered what a question actually is? Conventionally, questions are posed to elicit a response, to gather data from a Responder, like “How many children do you have?” or “Why are you doing that?” Parents and spouses sometimes use questions to point out insufficiencies or annoyances, as in “Didn’t you notice the dishes haven’t been done?” Sometimes we use them rhetorically to demand fairness in the world, like in “Why is this happening to me??” Sometimes questions are deemed ‘closed’, like in, “What time is dinner?” Sometimes they’re ‘open’, like in, “What do you want to eat?” But there is a unifying feature to all conventional questions: questions are biased by the needs of the Asker to elicit data from the Responder, with the assumption that our questions will extract the information we intend.
Of course, most of the time, conventional questions work just fine. How else could we find out how many acres there are at Machu Picchu, or which movie our spouse wants to see?
But I believe we are underutilizing questions. I believe it’s possible for questions to serve a higher purpose – to collect accurate data, of course, but also to help others discover their own answers and path to decision making and change. What if it were possible to use questions to actually lead people through their unconscious discovery process to uncover their own best answers – without any bias from the Asker?
WHAT QUESTIONS DO
There is a reason questions don’t necessarily unearth accurate data. Using uniquely chosen words and an outcome biased by the curiosity, needs, and assumptions of Askers, influencers extract a restricted subset of data from Responders, all answers being some degree removed from the complete set of available responses. Indeed, questions impose limits that often have some percentage probability of missing the mark, being misunderstood or interpreted badly. There are several reasons for this.
- Information: because information is elicited by the needs or curiosity – the bias – of the Asker, real answers may not be captured. The wording, the request, the topic, the intent, and/or the vocabulary may offend or annoy, given differences between the Responder’s and Asker’s beliefs, communication skills, and lifestyles.
- Listening: words and meaning are merely our brain’s interpretations of sound waves that enter our ears through our unique neural pathways, guaranteeing we understand what’s been said as per our unconscious biases. Obviously, we often misunderstand or misinterpret the intended message and potentially miss the intent of the question entirely. I wrote an entire book on this (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?. Given these natural biases, it’s likely that what we think we’ve heard is some degree off of what was intended. Read my article on this: We don’t know how to hear each other.
- Biased question formulation: Askers use words that will hopefully elicit good data for a specific goal and outcome, and may not elicit the best responses. Sadly, it’s possible that more accurate answers could have been retrieved with a different wording or intent.
- Restriction: questions restrict answers to the boundaries of the question. You cannot uncover data you never asked for, even if it’s available. You cannot elicit accurate data if the question is heard differently than intended. If I ask you what type of summer shoes you wear, you’re not going to explain the foot surgeries you’ve had.
Are you getting the point here? Questions are biased by the Asker in several ways, with so much bias built in it’s a miracle people communicate at all. And the Responder? Well, a Responder is at the mercy of the question.
This is especially disturbing in coaching, healthcare, and leadership situations. Well-meaning professionals believe they’ll instigate a truth from a Responder, exposed by the ‘right’ question; or that the Other will discover the ‘right’ answer if they search their brains in ‘this direction’. Every coach and leader I’ve met deeply believes in their own knack – ‘intuition’ – for posing the ‘right’ question because they have a history of similar situations and ‘know’ where another’s answer most probably lie.
Yet we all have examples where these assumptions have proven false. Sometimes the influencer has control issues and doesn’t trust the Other to have the ‘right’ opinions or ideas and believes they know more; sometimes they pose biased questions that elicit incorrect data, or worded in a way that unwittingly creates resistance to the assumptions built into them. And sadly, when they’re certain their questions are the right ones, blame Responders who don’t comply, or respond with ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘deceptive’ answers. And worse, patients end up keeping bad habits, clients end up not making needed changes, buyers end up not getting what they need.
A NEW FORM OF QUESTION
As someone who has thought deeply, and written, about the physiology of change and decision making for decades, I began pondering this conundrum in the 1980s. I wondered if questions could be used for something other than eliciting information and instead could direct Responders through their brain toward taking congruent action. What if the intent of the Asker was to facilitate Others in discovering their own route to change with no bias, no ego, no personal needs from the Asker for a particular solution – only the trust that Others had their own answers and merely had to discover them?
What if healthcare professionals asked questions that triggered patients to positive, immediate habit change, or coaches knew the exact questions that enabled new habit formation and behavior generation? What if scientists and consultants could elicit the most accurate information? And imagine if it were possible for questions to help advertisers actually inspire action and sellers to generate Buyer Readiness.
What if a question could be worded in a specific way to act as a GPS to lead a Responder through a sequence in their brain to unearth the accurate data? To make it possible to discover the full set of criteria to make a decision from?
I’m going to get a bit wonky here, so hang with me because what I discovered is not obvious. I began studying neuroscience to learn how to sequence the elements involved in personal, systemic change. I recognized that before anyone would make a change, they’d need to make sure it was congruent with their beliefs. One way to get there is to traverse – or be lead – through to the appropriate memory channels or value or data set they needed to consider, and use their own memories, their own beliefs, their own goals, in their own words, to be able to make a change congruent with who they were. It would be necessary for Askers to change their criteria from having answers to being facilitators.
I eventually came up with a new form of question that I labeled a Facilitative Question. It uses specific words, in a specific order to go to the most appropriate memory channel in the right order to enable discovery without resistance; it includes time; it’s’ neutral; it limits the scope of response so it avoids elements that might spark defense or feelings; it has no bias, and the Asker cannot know the answer; there is no challenge to the underlying status quo. They’re quite different from conventional questions, and I’m happy to discuss more fully should anyone wish to speak with me about them.
With these questions, prospective buyers can be led through change and buying stages; coaching clients can discover their own path to resistance-free change; doctors can elicit behavior change in patients rather than push to try to cause change; and advertisers can trigger interactive responses to normally one-sided push messages. They
- unlock the means to help Responders discover their own excellence;
- are non-manipulative and non-biased;
- offer change agents a new skill to elicit real change without resistance;
- eschew information exchange and adopt real servant leadership;
- enable Responders to solve their own problems and be ready to change.
Here is a simple example:
- How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?
This Facilitative Question (FQ) begins by expanding the viewing range to the full set of possibilities (i.e. ‘how would you know’), does not challenge the status quo (i.e ‘if it were time’), enables the consideration of possible change without demanding it or threatening the system (i.e. ‘reconsider’), and limits the area of analysis to a bite sized chunk so the brain isn’t overwhelmed (i.e. ‘hairstyle’). And used in the sequence of how decisions get made (my book Dirty Little Secrets discusses the 13 sequenced steps that all change decisions must traverse), this type of question leads the Responders brain to action. In fact, each FQ demands some form of action when responded to.
A conventional question posed to cover the same area might be:
- Why do you wear your hair like that?
This conventional question challenges the Responder and attempts to elicit data for the Asker’s use, causing a defensive response (a reply would start with ‘Because’) and keeping the person in a very small, idiosyncratic, and personal response range which may end up not being about hair at all, but might send the person back to a fight with their mother 30 years prior, or a defense against their boss, or whatever. And while the Asker is most likely attempting to elicit a response they can ‘sell’ into, they are out of control. FQs actually define the parameters and give Askers real control.
One of the skills needed to formulate FQs is listening for systems, listening without bias. When we listen with biased ears, we will only hear what we want to hear, or what our brains are set up to hear neurologically. When we can listen without bias (read my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? on this topic) we can hear where the person is along their change cycle and where exactly to pose the next question (again, the 13 steps to change and decision making applies here). A new skill set, a new set of outcomes, and the real belief that everyone has their own answers.
A bit of caution: sometimes people use my examples of FQs and change words, change the sequence, and change the intent. In other words, use a bit of what I suggest to, again, formulate a question to get what they want to get. In other words, it won’t be a FQ. FQs truly demand the Asker give up the need to be the change agent, have or seek ‘the answers’, or be in control. The goal of the FQs is merely to serve others in finding their own best answers.
FQs direct people to the exact spots within their brain – the most appropriate synapses and memory channels – where their accurate answers reside, in the proper order the brain can use them to consider making a change that’s congruent with their lifestyle, while creating an interactive situation. Here’s a few examples that could benefit from FQs.
- Healthcare: Intake forms that create an interactive doc/patient experience from the start:What would you need to see from us to know we’re on your team and ready to serve you? [This FQ automatically creates a WE space between patient and provider.]
- Advertising, for an ad for a Porsche, for example: How would you know when it was time to buy yourself a luxury car? [This FQ makes the ad interactive and gives a reader time to reflect on personal change.]
- Sales:What has stopped you until now from resolving your issue using your own resources? [This FQ enables potential buyers to look at how they’ve gone about solving a problem on their own – necessary before realizing they can’t fix the problem themselves and might need to buy something.]
- Coaching:What would you need to see or believe differently to be willing to consider new choices in the places where your habitual choices are more limited? [This FQ gives clients an observer viewpoint, thus circumventing blame, to notice old habits/patterns, and limits viewing to the exact historic behaviors that may not be effective.]
The examples above are merely of single FQs which have limited use: on their own they are not part of the process of enabling change. For most change it’s necessary to formulate a sequenced set of FQs that lead a Responder from their initial discovery of change criteria through their own unique, sequenced, steps of congruent change. These can be used in advertising and marketing campaigns; healthcare apps that sit on top of Behavior Mod apps and facilitate new habit formation; AI where apps or robots need to understand the route to change and decision making. I’ve been teaching it in sales with my Buying Facilitation® model for 40 years and companies such as DuPont take it into the field for their farmers to use, Senior Partners at KPMG use it with client consulting, Safelight Auto Glass uses it to compete against other distributers, and Kaiser Permanente uses it to engage seniors needed supplemental insurance, to name a few.
If anyone would like to learn the HOW of formulating Facilitative Questions, I developed a primer in a FQ learning accelerator. Or I can teach you the full skill set. Or we can work together to develop or test a new initiative. Given how broadly my own clients have used these questions, I’m eager to work with folks who seek to truly serve their client base.
By enabling Others to discover their own unconscious path we not only help them find their own best answers but act as Servant Leaders to decision making. What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to add a new questioning technique to your already superb questioning skills? How would you know that adding a new skill set would be worth the time/effort/cost to make you – and your clients – even more successful? Should you wish to add the ability to truly serve others, let me know.
Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.