If You Want The Truth – Ask The Question 3 Times

We are surprisingly simple – Which makes us really complicated

I was chatting to a colleague Jon Marrs who is in the US exploring opportunities last night, and the thought occurred – It always starts with a question, but do we really understand how complicated it is to ask the right questions?


I thought I’d do a quick share on one of the most important tools in the ‘change’ box – How to ask questions that get to the truth of the matter. So first a couple of quick points (not mine by the way, but from the world of psychology/behavioural analysis).

  1. The first answer you get off most people is what they think you want to hear, or is a knee-jerk response, which may, or more likely may not, be what they actually think – because oddly, they haven’t actually thought about the answer. They just said something.
  2. To get people to give a better answer, you need to be a better listener. To listen better you need to watch, as well as listen – or take a colleague with you (yep.. not quite good cop, bad cop. More one to ask, one to observe).

Oh and if you are wondering what the watcher does, its about ‘how’ the question was answered, as well as filling any gaps in that the listener misses. Specifically this person is watching which answers the persons was most ‘engaged’ in when answering. Whether this is animated or uncomfortable, your looking for what makes them more emotional, because that’s what they really believe in.

When we listen, we hear what we want to hear

Another problem with asking questions is that we tend to have a picture of what we want the answer to be, so we simply ignore (not consciously by the way – Oh and you will be doing it now whilst you read this) what does not ‘fit’ our desired answer.

So – as we used to say in the pioneering days of using customer data to drive purchase behaviour – rubbish in, rubbish out. Which means in normal interviews, you have the perfect components for not getting to the things that will make a difference to your Customer/Colleague experience (and we know how important that is – People Powered Change)

Tips to use to get to the important stuff

So this is at the heart of the simple, but complicated opening statement.

If most people tell you what you want to hear, and most people only listen to what they want to hear – 2 simple facts – you can end up with a very complicated outcome. Because you could ask in good faith about which bits of your Brand Experience should be changed to. You get and action the answers, only to find something different happens. Then what? – complicated?

So here are some simple things you can do:

  1. Always ask any important questions (these tend to be in the middle part of any discussion – you know, after the ice breaker, but before the ‘and finally’) three times. So this sounds odd, but I don’t mean a verbatim repeat. I mean slightly rephrased and acknowledging the response you got e.g.
    1. Q: How important do you feel our Helpline is for our customers?
      •  A. Very important, we get a lot of calls.
    2. Q: And what about getting a lot of calls makes it important to them?  
      • A. Well they seem to appreciate the advice we give to get them started.
    3. Q:And they need the Helpline to feel appreciated?
      • A. Yes, because our welcome pack is hard to understand.
  2. Get them to ‘look’ at the answer to the same question, from different perspectives/viewpoints. Changing perspective does 2 things. It makes them stop and think, and it gives them ‘permission’ to say what they really think – This latter point is especially important when asking Colleagues about Customer Experiences!
    1. Thinking about what it’s like to work here, how flexible do you think our opening hours are for our customers?
    2. Followed by Q. If you were a Customer of ours trying to buy something from us, how flexible do you think our opening hours are?
  3. Ask about emotions, by asking what’s important. Emotional Engagement/Alignment is what makes people loyal to brands (buy more for longer – all the other measures don’t really wash for me – I explored this in this Blog). So this technique can be used with both of the above and it consists of variations of the following:
    1. Q. In the context of (working here, your role, what the customer thinks about us, our products, the board, our shareholders – insert as appropriate) what, in a couple of words, do you things about our (insert product, service, brand as appropriate) is most important?

This last one is perhaps the most interesting one (and should be repeated a couple of times – you know why?), because it gets to how emotionally engaged and aligned people are inside, and outside of, your organisation. Put simply, similar things should be important and mentioned without prompting, across all different stakeholders – Don’t worry if it’s not though. It often isn’t and that’s where all the interesting ‘Truths’ are.

Done well – and the important part here is to simply give these a go, because as my opener said if your just asking ‘normal’ questions you’re most likely not getting to the important ‘stuff’ now anyway – you can create a picture not only of what’s really important in creating a great experience, but what is important about it to who, and how that experience ‘feels’ across different parts of the organisation.

So why not try it. One question at a time. It’s not a black art – It’s called good listening.