Are you asking the right questions?

“Do you like horror movies?”

You’re probably not asking this question at work (it’s from online dating service, OkCupid), unless your company is a nightmare, and you need to warn others.

Job applicant: This seems like a good place to work. Is it?
You: That depends. Do you like horror movies?

But the horror movie question is instructive if you want to sharpen your questions.

1) Open vs. closed: The first thing you notice is that it’s closed, meaning you’ll get a one-word, yes/no response.

Q: Are closed questions bad? (A closed question.)
A: No.
Q: So why do we care about the open/closed distinction? (Open.)
A: Because closed questions limit the info you get. And limit the other person’s engagement.
Q: What % of questions at work are closed? (Closed.)
A: 82.6%.
Q: Where did you get that figure? (Open.)
A: I just made it up. But at your next business meeting, keep score. You’ll be surprised by the tilt.

FYI: Even if you already know the open/closed distinction, common knowledge is not common practice. Do you ask too many closed questions? (Closed.) Check.

2) Your inferences: OkCupid discovered that if two people, now dating, gave the same answer to certain questions (in an initial survey), their odds of a long-term relationship went up.

But OkCupid identified three significant questions (listed below), not just one. And even then, the correlation was only 32%.

FYI: Be careful what you infer from any one answer.

3) A questioning strategy: Sometimes you need a series of questions, deliberately sequenced. For example:


Q: Do you like horror movies? (Closed.)
A: No.
Q: How would you feel about dating someone who loved horror movies? (Open.)
A: Afraid.
Q: Because you might have to sit through a lot of blood and gore? (Closed.)
A: No, because I’m already married.
Q: Ok, but suppose you were single. Would the horror movie difference be a deal-breaker? (Closed.)
A: No.
Q: What differences would be a deal-breaker? (Open. And the key question in this sequence.)

FYI: Plan your questioning strategy. Resist the temptation to just wing it.

p.s. The three OkCupid questions (and my answers—which match my wife’s):

1) Do you like horror movies? No.

2) Have you ever traveled around a foreign country alone? Yes. (Warning: Don’t ask your date this question, lest she assume that being with you will feel like going somewhere strange, and then being abandoned.)

3) Wouldn’t it be fun to chuck it all and go live on a sailboat?
No. (I don’t love sailboats, so this idea sounds a lot like a horror movie.)

© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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