Does my butt make this skirt look big? Asking the right questions.
I bet you read the title twice. Huh? (Yes, that is what I intended to write, not one of my all too frequent typos.)
We humans are compelled on the cellular level to want to give the “right” answer. The answer that will make our bosses say, “Wow, John/Jane is brillant! He/she will need a large raise!” The answer that will make the asker think, “Hold on, I’ve got Einstein here. I don’t need to probe further.” Maybe it’s Pavlovian: we think if we give the right answer, we’ll get a reward. Deep down, we just need that affirming pat on the head.
Sometimes, it is fun to torture people with questions for which there is no right answer. “Mr. Smith, do you still beat your mule?”
And then, of course, there are questions for which there is only one right answer. “Dear, do you think I am losing my hair?” Or, the classic, “Does this skirt make my butt look big?”
If you really want a true, complete and considered response, you have to ask the right question. This is my challenge when I interview people to learn about their company and their brand. If I ask almost any company a straightforward question like “What does Giant Pelican Corporation do?” The response is likely to contain some of the same rode-hard-and-put-away-wet descriptors that include, “core values, unique, full service provider, one-stop-source, value-added, results-oriented, handle all your needs, low-cost solution, mission-critical, competitive advantage, total customer satisfaction…”
The problems here are two-fold. First, if in your response, I can substitute your company name with that of any of your competitors, you have missed the opportunity to show me your value—what makes you better, different, and more worth doing business with than the other guys.
Second, these safe, corporate-speak words are so overused, they have become meaningless and devoid of passion. If you aren’t passionate about what your company does, why should anyone else be?
My job is to ask questions that will jettison you out of robot-speak, probe for authentic answers and help you articulate your value. Rather than ask you what you do, I may ask, “What do your competitors wish they could do as well as you?” This is going to elicit an entirely different and more passionate answer.
For example, when your close, personal friend asks, “Does this skirt make my butt look big?” You both know the real answer, but you can only give the requisite, “No.” However, just by rephrasing it, “Does my butt make this skirt look big?” the focus is suddenly on the skirt and away from the underlying cause. You can safely avert a fashion faux pas without hurting your friend’s feelings by simply berating the designer’s bad choice of horizontal stripes.
Asking the right, carefully crafted questions yields meaningful, distinctive answers that will help articulate your value and achieve your goals.