The Second Question to Ask

Yesterday I wrote about the first question we should ask, “Tell me more.” Now, while not properly a question, that doesn’t matter, the point is that you are requesting your speaker to explain himself. What naturally happens when there are high emotional stakes is that we start to misunderstand.

For example: what I might mean by “hustle,” it might be positive, meaning “that guy is such a hard worker, he really hustles!” or it could mean, “hey, don’t try and hustle me!” The fact is that most audiences are in agreement about the judgement on the meaning, but they are not necessarily in agreement as to what the word “hustle,” meant. That is, until they asked for clarification.

Then comes the second question to ask: “Tell me what you mean by ____.” 

The interrogative (question word) “what” is very useful for getting at the emotion of someone’s meaning, and help them come up with a clear rational for what they are saying. Let’s take a hypothetical: Steve comes into your office and says, “ugh, Ana the secretary, she is so lazy!” you might say, “tell me what you mean by lazy.” And then Steve can explain what he means, “she comes in late, she doesn’t do the work I ask her for, she is on facebook all day, all she does is chat with her colleagues.” and you Steve has a full resume of what frustrates him. Alternatively, Steve might not really have an answer, he might feel and say, “well, I, uh…I guess…well, I really don’t know. I maybe shouldn’t have said that.”

The “tell me what you mean by ____.” is helps the speaker account for the emotions he or she feels.

This is why it’s so powerful, again, you get to take control and the emotions of the individual now have to go back to logic and reason, and you can be a bit more constructive. Alternatively, if you see something that you can do for the individual, you have the opportunity to fix it.

Which word do we choose to fill in the blank? The one with the greatest emphasis. Learn to listen to a speaker and see what word they emphasize most, or the one that they immediately precede with a swear word. THAT is the word that you need them to clarify, because that is their point of greatest pain. Want them to listen to you? Make sure they know that you are listening to them. 


The First Question You Should Ask

Interviews, coworkers discussions, conversations with your boss, projects, even just the relationship with your spouse–all of these suffer from the same sickness: miscommunication. How many times has either the “wrong” response to a question or a squabble begun just because what someone meant wasn’t what you thought they said! Language is like a cross-platform technology that allows separate operating systems or programs communicate with each other. And, there are always, always going to be bugs.

That’s why I propose the following:

The question you should ask is: “tell me more.”

Tell me what you mean by that or “tell me more” is a way to acknowledge someone, show that you are listening, and make sure you hear their entire meaning is heard. Yes, it takes more time, but it saves a lot more in the long run. Try using the phrase, “tell me more” and you will be surprised at just how much might be behind someone’s words.

This can also be an especially foul trick on someone who is rude to you or insults you. For example, if someone says, “man, that shirt looks a little tight on you” and you reply, “oh yeah? Tell me more.” They can either dig a hole (which they will feel the effects from later, wondering all day why they didn’t just stop talking), or they can say, “woah, I’m so sorry that I ever thought that, I was wrong and I would ask your forgiveness.” Either way, by asking someone to explain the slight that they have given you, you take back control from them. They are no longer in control of the emotional climate.

How do you like that? Now you are back in the driver’s seat and you have only said three words. Nifty, eh?

Eventually someone will say, “That’s really all there is to say,” and then we can talk about the second best question to ask, which I will talk about tomorrow.