This is the first in an occasional series about the BA’s most fundamental tool, the question. I’ll look at questions from all sorts of points of view, give tips and examples and throw in some references and extra reading too.
- We’ll look at using questions to steer the conversation – not just open and closed, but all sorts of other ways to make sure you get what you need from an interview
- We’ll consider the balance of power and take a look at what happens when a politician avoids answering repeated quetions
- We’ll see how teachers use questions to check for understanding and compare it with how sales people use questions for selling and how doctors use questions to break bad news
- We’ll consider how best to get qualitiative information (how people feel about something) and quantitive information (how many beans make five)
- We’ll have tables and two-by-two grids for the visually minded
- It will be a whistle-stop tour; we’ll conduct investigations with Aristotle, go Through the Looking Glass with Alice, see whether Kipling’s six serving men are actually enough, and take some tips from NLP on the way
- It’ll be fun.
- And we’ll start with:
A man comes into a bar. He looks distraught: his hair is a mess, his pupils are dilated, he is visibly shocked and he’s staggering.
His wife asks: why are you late?
The policeman asks: what’s just happened?
The psychiatrist asks: and how do you feel about that?
The lawyer asks: who else was involved?
The doctor asks: where does it hurt?
The journalist asks: can I have an exclusive?
The photographer asks: can you just look this way?
His best mate asks: what are you drinking?
The barman asks: can I help you sir?
The questions we ask give away a lot. They show what assumptions we are making, and they highlight our own areas of concern or obsession.
More than that though, the question we choose sets us off in one specific direction. Each of those questions is the starting point for a conversation which excludes the other conversations the man could have.
Tip: If you reach a stalemate in an inquiry, work out what questions other people would ask.
Example: Katherine Whitehorn used to sanity-check her plans for activities at children’s parties by asking:
“what would the Coroner say?”
When she put herself in the coronor’s shoes using this technique, she broke out of her own assumptions (accidents happen to other people) and could judge her own actions by a much more critical standard (is allowing children to play in a pool unsupervised stupid, dangerous or even criminally negligent?).
Tip: The simplest generic question to start with is: ”what is the best question to ask?”
This is the first of these entries, but you will be able to find more here, as I write them.
A reminder: This work by Ben Warsop is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.