Rethinking the Way We Ask

A blog by the Wall Street Journal said that “Studies show we tend to hit our questioning peak around age 4 or 5, and then ask fewer questions as we get older.” Why is that? Maybe we think that by asking questions, we are demonstrating a lack of knowledge. Or maybe, we just don’t spend the adequate time coming up with thoughtful questions.

When doing research in advertising, you ask questions that will unearth the data and insights you need to build a campaign. Whether conducting a focus group, survey, or interview, you want to make the most of your time with the participant by asking questions that get deep into the heart of the matter at hand.

Here’s an exercise. I’ll take the following questions and turn them into two better questions that I can ask instead.

Have you ever sent a text message while driving?

  • What do you do when you receive a text message or phone call while driving?
  • When you are driving, what things distract you?

Would you say that you travel abroad frequently?

  • How often do you travel abroad?
  • How would you describe your travel habits?

Do you post a lot of pictures on Instagram?

  • How do you use Instagram?
  • How would you describe your posting habits on Instagram?

Do you prefer to shop at big boxes or locally owned stores?

  • What kinds of stores do you prefer to shop at?
  • What do you consider when selecting a store to shop at?

How often do you eat sweets?

  • What are your habits when it comes to eating sweets?
  • How would you describe your diet?

Do you tend to buy things that are on sale?

  • How does a sale influence your purchasing decisions?
  • What effect does the price of an item have your decision to purchase it?

Do you like to eat wheat bread?

  • What kind of bread do you like to eat?
  • When buying groceries for the week, what would be in your cart?

Now, by looking at this exercise and the new questions I came up with, you can see that open ended questions are much more interesting and have the potential to lead to much broader conversations. I want to caution that to get at a very specific answer, you may need to follow up with probing questions. But, from the discussions that follow these questions, you might also discover a new topic that you want to explore more than the topic you had originally chosen.

I learned a very important lesson about question-asking in an interview roleplay setting where I was challenged to conduct an employee’s review. I thought I was being thoughtful and productive by doing my homework and coming up with questions that got at the root of the problem in the situation. However, I realized that by asking yes or no questions, I was dominating the conversation and leading the other person to give the answers I thought I was looking for. It was very frustrating for the other person because they felt like they were unable to speak for themselves and tell me what they really wanted me to hear.

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via GIPHY

By asking open ended questions, you can really listen and understand the truth of what the person is saying. In the end, open ended questions will give you better answers that lead to better insights.

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