Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Presentations Effective Communication - Get Buy-in Faster by Asking Better Questions

Effective Communication - Get Buy-in Faster by Asking Better Questions



Roi Ben-Yehuda talks about one of the most valuable (but least-known) skills we need to communicate well and influence: how to use the right question at the right moment. He discusses our communication skills so that we can more quickly resolve problems, earn influence, and motivate people.


Roi Ben-Yehuda is a Facilitator at LifeLabs Learning. He is an expert in the field of communication under pressure, emotion regulation, conflict resolution, and negotiation skills. He teaches at Columbia University and conducts research on constructive conflict ability within and across teams.

About the conference

Software is changing the world. QCon empowers software development by facilitating the spread of knowledge and innovation in the developer community. A practitioner-driven conference, QCon is designed for technical team leads, architects, engineering directors, and project managers who influence innovation in their teams.


Ben-Yehuda: My name is Roi Ben-Yehuda. I'm a Facilitator for LifeLabs, and we're a company that specializes in helping individuals from innovative organizations master life's most useful skills. Today we're going to be talking about some of those skills, in particular, questioning and listening skill. It's a workshop on influence. I’ll tell you really quick about myself. I'm originally from Israel, I was born and raised there. I came to this country to do my academic work. My academic work is intimately tied to my biography. It's in negotiation and conflict management.

I'm also a Professor at Columbia University here in New York, and I teach on graduate-level courses on negotiation, on competition, on corporation. I teach undergraduate courses at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and I study organizational psychology and organizational behavior with a particular focus on innovative high-tech organizations. I do all this teaching and facilitating partly because I love to learn, so I hope to learn from you as we go through this session. Part of the way in which I will learn from you as we go through this session is that we're going to make this interactive, so you're not going to be listening to me talk for 40 minutes, but we're going to do this together.

Since we're going to be talking about influence today a lot, we're going to begin with a definition. What I'd like you to do is just turn to your neighbor, and 30 seconds - I'll always be doing the timekeeping - just have a brief conversation on how you define influence, what is influence for you.

Stop, come on back. What have we got? What is influence for you? Or just boom your voice, project it. What is influence, how do we know it when we see it? What are we talking about? Some keywords even, it doesn't have to be a formal definition. Hadijah, what do we got?

Participant 1: Essentially I would say influence is the method by which you're able to communicate effectively your thoughts and ideas to someone in a way that they not only understand it, but are listening, and also my friend over here also mentioned, follow. That's really it.

Ben-Yehuda: Excellent. Thank you. Victor, you said, "Follow"? Meaning, so there's a behavioral component to it as well. Let's take one or two more answers.

Participant 2: Having an effect, positive or negative on someone, probably changing their thoughts or their actions because of it.

Ben-Yehuda: Ok, so having some kind of effect, positive or negative, changing thoughts, changing maybe emotions, changing actions, behavior. Do we have one more?

Participant 3: Capability of having people to engage in [inaudible 00:03:09]

Ben-Yehuda: Yes, so ability to just get something done, whether for yourself or for others. It's a neutral thing, it can be positive or negative. Oftentimes when it's negative, we call it manipulation; when it's positive, we'll call it influence in this way. That's what we're going to be talking about, and the question is, how to get it, how do you get more of it through the use of Hadijah's point of communication. What are the key behavioral units that we need to adopt to do this well?

One thing that we do at LifeLabs is, we go into a lot of different organizations, and we not only provide our services which are these workshops but also we study them. We go in and we ask, "Who does X really well? Who's a great manager here? Who's a great negotiator here? Who listens really well? Who asks a great question? Who's very influential?" We bring them in and we study them like this collectively, and also individually, and one-on-one, and we interview them. We want to know what they do differently than the average person, not below average, but what differentiates the great from the good. We want to look at their behaviors, because it's not enough to be, "They're charismatic, they're eloquent." That's not good enough and you certainly are not going to be able to transfer that over into a behavioral skill into a two-hour workshop, or 40-minute workshop, or a talk, or whatever it may be.

Quantity and Quality of Questions

What you see when you do this is that there are certain behaviors that cluster in the data. They repeat themselves again, and again for those people who do a particular behavior really well. One of those skills, as we saw in our own research, is that the people who are named as very influential in the organization - and this is connecting to Karen's point earlier - they ask great questions. Imagine that you are observing, say, a one-on-one between a manager and their direct report, and your job is to identify their questioning skills. What do you look for? What constitutes good questioning skills? What do you think?

Participant 4: [inaudible 00:04:57].

Ben-Yehuda: Ok, so questions that cause people to think. Question that create space for people to think and share their thoughts. What else?

Participant 5: Open-ended questions are really good.

Ben-Yehuda: Yes, so think about category of questions. Open versus closed-ended. Open-ended questions, questions that broaden the space, cause people to think; whereas closed-ended questions narrow that space of a response. They lend themselves to the binary yes or no type of responses, and there's a place for them. Sometimes you need concise responses, but if that's what your brain naturally does, naturally defaults into asking those questions, you may be missing out on an opportunity to have a richer conversation with folks. Of course, one thing that we also notice is just paying attention on a quantitative level, just how many questions they ask, say in a 15-minute conversation? You can look at question-to-statement ratio. How often are they just making statements and trying to influence somebody? Like, "Come to the front,” versus asking folks questions, or you can just look at just how many questions they ask. If you have to guess, an average manager, how many questions they ask in a 15-minute one-on-one with their direct report? Two. They're not very curious; they're just asking, it could be like, "How is it going?" There is your one question. Most of the time, they're just talking. What about an above-average manager? Sandeep?

Participant 6: Five.

Ben-Yehuda: Maybe five. Ok, so that's a significant difference there. What if I tell you it's more? Who wants to go?

Participant 7: Twelve.

Ben-Yehuda: Twelve? Ok, that will maybe be like an interrogation. Somewhere like 5 to 12 is where we want to go. You see a significant difference, and it's not just in this literature. In my favorite field of negotiation, we do something very similar. We look at a live negotiation session and we look at negotiators, say, above average, average, below average. We want to look at multiple variables, so we're measuring. One of them is, how many questions they ask in a live negotiation, and what types of questions do they ask in those live negotiations? What we see is that an above-average negotiator asks twice as many - it's not the same ratio, but it's a significant difference - twice as many questions as an average counterpart, and they spend roughly 27% of their time asking questions, because by asking questions, they're getting information and information is a source of power. Think about negotiation as the ultimate act of influence.

Another ultimate act of influence is sales. A study that was done not too long ago, 2017, on sales reps wanted to see what do - again, above average, average, below average - sales reps do really well and really different than other folks? What they saw is the most successful sales representatives ask in a sales call somewhere between 11 to 14 questions. That was the average there, whereas average sales folks were asking somewhere between six to nine questions and then you had other folks below average who weren't asking any questions. They were three.

The interesting thing about this study is that they didn't frontload the questions, they spread them out throughout the conversation. They spent more time listening than they did talking, which makes sense, they're asking more questions, and people are talking more as a result of it. Sample size, by the way, for this study was over half a million sales calls. It's pretty significant sample size there as well.

We know that people in different fields utilize questions well. Many of you are in the sciences. I added this just for this presentation, this particular picture. That there was a great quote by Einstein, and he gave this in an interview for an Italian magazine. He said that, "If I had to solve a problem and I had one hour to solve it..." And to be a little bit dramatic, he said, " life depended on it." He said, "I would spend the first 55 whole minutes making sure I'm asking the right question and only then default to trying to figure out a solution to the problem." That's how powerful questions are, that's how important questions are. We want to understand where does their power come from? We'll be talking about that today, and what kind of questions can we ask that are going to have that high impact that we are looking for.

Just to give you an example, imagine that you asked your manager - you were excited about some project, you mentioned this idea to her and she said, "Look, it's not a good time. It's not top priority." In this instance what a lot of people do, they're going into this fight or flight mode. Fight will be, "I'm going to dig in and I'm going to compel. I'm going to let you know why this is a good time, this is a good priority, this is a good project, this is the time to do it. I'm going to make my case, I'm going to argue." The flight will be like, "Fine, I'll just accept what you said and I'll just move away from that." Instead of getting critical here or just leaving, I want you to default into a mode of curiosity. What kind of questions can you ask her? Let's see if we can collect really quickly, say three questions. What kind of questions?

Participant 8: When can we talk about this again?

Ben-Yehuda: When can we talk about this again? What are the top priorities?

Participant 9: [inaudible 00:10:01]

Ben-Yehuda: Ok, so asking about something specific. One more.

Participant 10: Who decides priority?

Ben-Yehuda: Who is the decision-maker, who decides the priority? Ok. Then we're connected to managing operator. Yes, so what is a top priority? What can I do to help? What would create a 10% improvement on this idea?

Question Agility

Whatever it is you're going to get, even if you might not get what you want, you're going to get useful information that you can build upon. Part of the idea here is to generate a type of flexibility in your communication or agility. When you ask something and you don't get stuck - let's just say we had a meeting and the meeting went, "Ah." And then we're, "How can we improve this meeting?" It's a legitimate open-ended question and the response that you get is, "I don't know." You don't just, "Ok, you don't know." Can I pivot here and say, "Ok, well what is it that you didn't like about this meeting? How do we improve that? Jordan, what is one thing you liked about this meeting? How can we do more of that?" You build on that and you don't just get stuck because you have that kind of flexibility, and that's what we're going to equip you within this mini-workshop of ours.

We're going to break it down to three parts. Part one, we're going to do - and you'll see why you have that white paper in a moment - an exercise to get your curiosity juices flowing. Part two is, we're going to look at four essential listening and questioning, or key essential questions, or techniques, or tools that you can use anytime you're trying to influence somebody else. Then part three, we're going to commit to picking a focus that we're going to select the moment we leave this room. That's going to be the structure of what we're covering today.

Get to Curious

Let's get to that place of curiosity. I'm going to share with you one tool that I love to do if I feel stuck and I want to generate more ideas, more questions, I use this tool and I want to share this tool with you today. This is how it works. You're going to partner up with somebody who is sitting next to you. Here's what I'd like you to do. One of you, let's say between the both of you, whoever has the longest hair, is going to be scribe. You're going to be the scribe. The rest of you are going to generate questions, but you're going to all, even the scribe, generate questions. I'll give you two minutes and you're going to generate 20 questions about the pen in your hand. Go.

Here's the interesting thing about this exercise. When I give this exercise, and I use this in my negotiation classes, I use this in many different settings, what sometimes happens is around seven or eight questions, people get stuck. They get a curiosity block, and some of them are, "Screw this, I'm not playing this stupid game," and they just stop.

Then there are those who break through the block. What's interesting is, the next wave of questions are usually the better questions. If you look at your list right now and if you have to select your favorite question, see where it lands. I'm pretty confident it's not the first question. First questions are like, "Where was it made?" Then like around eight or nine it's like, "Can you use it as a shank?" I hope it's not your first question. But you're thinking about it divergently.

The key point here is that, often when we do this exercise, our first questions, the top of mind, are not the best questions, you've got to keep going. Then the other is, I want you to introduce this notion of ideating through questions. Instead of brainstorming, you can Q storm and, "Let's take five minutes to generate as many questions as we can, or three minutes, or whatever it is." Even better, give a quota; each person come up with five questions and then share them. See how they are clustered, and see what new ideas that they produce. It's an excellent technique that you can use on anything from work-related to your personal life, to anything.

In fact, what I want you to do right now is I want you now alone, not with somebody else, to come up with at least three questions about your manager. We talked about managing up, let's get curious about your manager and come up with three questions about your manager. 30 seconds, go.

What I would like you to do next is, you don't have to circle it, but what I'd like you to do is, out of the three or four you just generated, select your favorite one. Here's the thing, write it down legibly on a separate piece of paper, that's why you have the separate piece of paper. Let's do this in 30 seconds.

Now, this is late in the day, you've gone through already a lot of really interesting talks and maybe some of you need a little bit of a stretch so I'm going to give you an opportunity to do this. What I'd like you to do is take that piece of paper, and stand up. Now, I'd like you to take your piece of paper and crumple it into a ball. For the next 30 seconds we're going to have an epic QCon snowball fight. When I say stop, whatever snowball lands next to you, you've got to ask your manager that question. Go, 30 seconds.

Stop. Find a snowball next to you and pick it up, open it up. That’s the question you have to ask sometime this week. Let's come on back. Then later, we'll find you a snowball, and I'm going to introduce you to a whole bunch of questions that you can select coming up next.

Our first life lesson is this. Anytime you're trying to influence somebody, I want you to a Q step. Step into a questions mode, default into a mode of curiosity. Ask at least one question, and you're already influencing folks when you're doing that. It doesn't matter if you're going up, you're going across, you're going down, it's a really powerful method of communicating, and we'll see why as we move through this. Then we want to think about which questions matter. Of course, this could be a whole long list of questions that matter and it's situational, of course. But when we did this research, we also noticed that certain types of questions kept on repeating themselves again and again, so we put them here together for you.

Ask Four Key Questions

For the sake of this session, we'll reduce it down to four key ones. They're are the following. You know them, but you probably know them by different names. The first one is a mix of the listening and questioning skill put together. It's something that we call a playback. A playback simply means that you're going to play back what you heard the other person say, either mirror their language or in your own words, which is my preference, because it sounds a lot less mechanical. Play back what you heard the other person say, direct or indirect.

The second, this is a more advanced level of doing this. By the way, notice what the question here is, "Did I get that right?" It's not enough for you to just say something like congratulate yourself because you're not a passive listener, but rather check, verify the other person, see if it resonates with them before you move on. That's the question there, "Did I get that right?" It's a closed-ended question. A more advanced version of this is something called split-tracking. Split-tracking is when you observe somebody is a great listener, sometimes the message is convoluted. What they can do is they can break it down into different tracks. I hear A, I hear B, I hear C, "Which one do you want to talk about first?" That's the magic question there. I'm giving them the power in the conversation, "You decide which one. You prioritize the conversation. Which one do you want to talk about first?"

Now, I want to give you a chance to do this. Let's pick somebody that you haven't yet spoken with. You meet somebody new, maybe just turn around and you meet somebody that you didn't come in with. What I want you to do is, we're going to do this very briefly. Let's go 45 seconds, 30 seconds. First person between the two of you. Whoever has a more colorful shirt is going to speak first between the two of you. We're going to do this, 45 seconds and then we're going to alternate.

What you're speaking about is the following, what's been on your mind? It could be work related, could be just anything. Your job is to blab. Don't make it easy on anyone, you're just blabbing for 45 seconds. When I say stop, the person who is listening, you're going to play back what you heard, or split track what you heard the other person say, and then we're going to rotate. Most colorful shirt is going to go first, you're going to speak first.

It's not always easy to be a good listener. There are a lot of things that stand in the way. But what I want you to think about is, first, what does it mean to be a good listener? What we see when we study people who do this really well is that they listen on multiple frequencies. They listen for content, which probably is what you did right now. They also listen for emotion, like some of the emotional overtones, whether it's explicit or implicit. They also listen for needs and interests that are being articulated or not being articulated, and then for some keywords and metaphors that people are using to get a sense of what is it that they're saying. It's a complex thing to listen well to somebody else. What I want you to think about is how does that earn influence? I want to suggest that it earns influence in at least four different ways.

Number one, you're getting aligned on what the other person is saying. "Did I understand you?" This is the problem with passive listening is that it's based on the assumption that you do understand the other person, but when you put it to the test and you do something that you all just did in a laboratory setting, when they play it back, it's littered with errors of omission and commission. People invent stuff and they're sure you said it, or they're, "This is your main point." You’re, "It's not really my main point." We're not good at just listening and so I want to get aligned to what it is that you just said.

Second is, I want to make sure that you felt heard in the conversation. When most of us talk, we want to feel heard, so I'm paying attention to you. I'm respecting you and the other way. The word respect, by the way here, is very interesting. The origin of the word itself means to see spect, like, spectacles. To see somebody again and you're demonstrating that by listening actively to them.

Third is, you help organize their thinking, so, "I heard you say A, B, and C." Their thinking might be a mess, but you're organizing it.

Fourth, slow down the process, so you're not constantly in this reactive mode. Eventually, you go slow to go fast. Those are some of the ways in which doing the exercise you just did earns influence with respect to other people and the list could be longer. That's one category here which is active listening and finishing it off with that closed-ended question, and giving them autonomy in the conversation as well through that question. What we saw is that people who are ranked as exceptional influencers were using this technique again and again.

Now I want to move you into a different type of questioning, which is what we call a blur question. The goal of a blur question is to move somebody from this here, what's on left, something that's blurry, to what's on your right, something that's clear. All too often, and I'm sure that many of you recognize this, when we talk, when other people talk, especially about some of these non-technical issues, it's very fuzzy and it's very blurry. What you want to do is take somebody's word that you catch that's unclear, that's blurry, and think about what's the data behind the inference? What's the data behind the interpretation in the first place? For example, in the sentence here, what's blurry? What's obviously blurry?

Participant 11: ASAP?

Ben-Yehuda: Yes. For some people it's just like, "Drop everything, that should be done tomorrow." For other people it's, "It depends on who is sending it to me", it has different meanings, so, what is it exactly that you're trying to say to me? A blurred question will take that word and say, "Well, so help me out. Just to understand where you're coming from here, what does ASAP mean to you? Just so we're aligned on this?" That's what a blurred question does. Notice, it's not, "What do you mean by ASAP?" Rather, "What does ASAP mean to you?" It's a small change but think about what you hear as far as differences when somebody says, "What do you mean by this," versus "What does that mean to you?" For me, one is much more inviting, the other one comes across somewhat judgemental, maybe even accusatory in one way or another. The phrasing here matters as well.

I'm going to say to you a sentence and I want you to get ready. Just train your brain to underline blur words. Just catch what's blurry. My goal in general is to become a more playful facilitator. That's my goal. What would you underline here?

Participant 12: "Playful".

Ben-Yehuda: "Playful". Yes. Of course, you can underline a lot. What is "become", what is "more," what is "playful", but you want to get a sense of what's obviously blurry and that is "playful". That is something that's obviously blurry. Who wants to unblur me? It means that we have more fun. Are we good? Notice what I did. I changed one blur word for another blur word, which often happens in this kind of communication. Don't let somebody go. I know it seems a bit odious and it's, "Ugh". You don't want it to be an interrogation but you've still got to get to a place of clear thinking, clear understanding with the other person; that shared reality that you assume that you have but you don't actually have. What does fun mean to me? That people laugh more often in the workshops?

Participant 13: How much often?

Ben-Yehuda: Every 10 minutes. At some point, you've got to stop. The point is, you wouldn't have guessed that's what I meant by playful, because in your mind you're like playful may mean something completely different, but now you know what I actually mean. We can build on that, we can work, we can problem-solve to the result that I want to get because we got to the sense of what's beneath what this person, in this case me, was actually saying.

I have one more exercise for you and then the rest of we'll do without the exercises. There's one exercise I want you to practice. Again, find somebody new here. What I want you to do, and this is the last exercise for today, and then we'll touch on other concepts, but we won't do exercises for them. I want you to put both the playback you just learned into practice, but now unblur somebody. Here's a topic of conversation. What is something that's really important to you, not just on your mind, but something important to you at work or something important to you in your personal life at the moment? I want the person one, who’s listening, playback what you heard, but get that person to a place of clear thinking and clear communication. That's your goal in this conversation. Between the two of you, whoever has the most colorful shoes and or socks this time, is going to be speaking first.

I recognize that this is not enough time to have these kinds of conversations, but hopefully you're getting a taste of how to use these communication techniques and the benefits of doing so. This is also a really useful one for giving and receiving feedback. Again, this is useful from influencing somebody. If I'm giving somebody feedback, I'm trying to influence them, if somebody is giving me feedback, I think about how I can help them give me better feedback.

Oftentimes, when we give feedback, we are very general. We say, "Great job." Our brain, it's easy for us to say, "I like it, I dislike it." In fact, at the end of this session you'll be, "I like it, I dislike it." That's very easy for folks, but it's not very useful when, imagine your boss telling you, "I liked your proposal, good job." It feels good on the ego but what do you do with that information? I want to know specifically what is it that you liked, so that's blurry and I would just, "What is it that you like about it?" Again, they'll go, "Ok, it's well organized." Now I know what they're referring to. They're not talking about the content they're talking about the structure, the format, the organization.

It still doesn't help me, so I want to go that one step into the data more. One step deeper into the data and maybe they'll say something like this, I hope they don't just say something like this. That will be very disheartening, "Great. I put in all this effort and you're like, ‘Great, amazing font.’" Now you know what you can replicate next time. That's the power of doing that. Let's take another one. Somebody says, "I really liked how you handled the situation with Jane." Again, I can't use that, that's not useful. I want you to train your mind, don't give that kind of feedback, and when somebody gives you the kind of feedback, call it out by getting curious and asking a question. "What is it that you like about it?" "I thought you were tactful." Don't let it go, it's usually one more step, and it's like, "What does that mean?" "You thought about her concerns before you addressed your concern." Now I can replicate that.

Or you tell somebody, "Hadijah, that email was very unprofessional." Ok, "unprofessional" can mean so many different things to so many people, it's such a blurry word. What does that mean? "You used four emoticons. Stop using emoticons in your emails." Now I know what to change. Think about it; I have a button here. Think about it as one level is the shirt, another one is the button, this is what you want to get to, and asking that question, you'll get to the button and you're not just talking in generality about the shirt.

How it earns influence? You can think about it on multiple levels. One, from a credibility perspective, another one from a problem-solving perspective. If I know what's behind what you're saying, that allows us to get to the issue so we can problem-solve more effectively. Finally, again as before, it's counterintuitive because you're slowing things down, but you're doing that to become more efficient and not base whatever it is you're doing under false pretenses or under wrong assumptions. The list could be longer but that's part of the reason why blur questions are so powerful.

Two more to go. We move from blur to scaling question. Imagine you propose an idea and again it got rejected, and somebody says, "I'm not digging your idea." They came out of a 70s time machine. "I'm not digging your idea." That's blurry, so you're, "I've been to this workshop, I'm going to unblur them." "What does digging mean to you?" "I don't really know. I just am not digging it." Sometimes you're not going to get the answer that you want in these situations, so you can pivot here and ask a different type of question. That question is what we call a scaling question, which sounds like this, "On a scale of 1 to 10, where does it fall? Let's say 1 is, you really hate and 10, you love it." Jean, where does it fall to for you?", "A four." I know he doesn't hate it but maybe he's just being nice to me, he doesn't want to hurt my feelings. It doesn't really matter because the magic of a scaling question is the follow-up, which is, "What would create that 10% improvement?" I don't care what number it is, I care about how do I build progress? How do I milestone progress moving forward? That's the power of asking this kind of question.

The other element here that's so powerful is I'm not the one who's going to decide what matters most here. I'm asking you, I'm making you a co-creator in resolving this situation with me. What we know from research is that people become much more attached to their own ideas and they tend to overvalue the ideas that they generate. It's something in psychology called the IKEA effect. You should think about that. Yes, you tend to love the IKEA furniture because you're putting all this time creating it even though for other people it's like a monstrosity. For you, "This is beautiful, this is my baby." It's why we love our babies actually as well. A different workshop. I have two babies and I get it.

Coming back to the manager who rejected what you were saying earlier, one question you could have asked is, "On a scale of 1 to 10, what would move it up one point?" If you don't like that phrasing, "What would create a 10% improvement?" Notice, it's not a New Year's resolution nonsense where it’s like, "How do I go to a 10?" It's like, "How do I go to from a 4 to 4.5? Let's figure that out and then move forward." The reason for this is that earns influence. Think about from a buy-in perspective; it unlocks people's resistance. I'm asking you to be a partner in trying to figure this out with me. You saw the session earlier about managing up, it's part of that. You're unlocking that resistance because you're not coming up with a solution with me, hopefully. It allows to milestone progress, so you see "Here's where we were," and now we get a sense, a shared understanding of what a five is going to look like; from a four to a five. Then, credibility. Again, this list could be much longer.

Our last question here, and I think it's my favorite out of the four - we all have our favorite that we naturally gravitate to - is sharing reasoning. How many people here have come from outside of New York, by show of hands? Everyone. I was told that this is what we New Yorkers look like to you. If you're walking now in New York City and you see somebody like that, your mind just makes a very quick snap judgment about them, and that's all you see, this is all you get. You see it really quick. What kind of person would you say this person is? This person is maybe angry, grumpy, annoyed, annoying. Not nice. It's not a person, "I want this person is a coworker." It's probably not going to be your first thought.

What reasoning questions do is they go beyond that, and by the way, in psychology what we're describing is something called the fundamental attribution error. What that is, is our tendency to explain other people's perceived negative behavior by favoring dispositional explanation over situational ones. In other words, they do the things you don't like because of the personality, but what happens when you zoom out? You take a step back and you're, "What else is impacting this person's behavior? What else is causing them to behave that way?" That's where reasoning questions become so powerful.

Reasoning questions could be something like this, "Can you walk me through your thinking on that? What led you to that thought? What's important to you about that?" Some people don't like to use why questions, but why questions fall into reasoning questions as well. In fact, one of the first lessons I teach my students in negotiation classes is, when you negotiate, differentiate between positions and interests. Right away, position is what somebody says they want, interest is why they want it in the first place. If I know why you want something, I can be so much more creative in coming up with solutions that are mutually beneficial, in contrast to just thinking about what you say you want. You want more of this, you want less of that, very limited ways that I can satisfy it. If I know your motivation behind that, then I can problem solve a lot more effectively.

One of the secrets of great negotiators is they ask these kinds of questions. They ask them before the negotiation begins, so they would ask the question, "Why would this person say yes to my proposal, and why will they say no to my proposal?" I've got to start putting myself in their shoes. Yesterday we had a session on empathy, putting myself in their shoes in order to problem-solve more effectively by asking these kinds of questions so that I can influence more effectively. During the session, as well, I'm going to ask these kinds of questions.

These are also useful in that when you're having those difficult, contentious conversations as many of us are having in today's political climate, in getting in the habit of generously imagining what it's like to be the other person, and why they're thinking what they're thinking. It's probably not your first explanation, "They're a jerk, or they're xenophobic, or they're racist," or whatever it is. What's behind that? What's driving that in the first place? Just getting in the habit of doing that.

Another term for this is something called, in debates - if you watch really skillful debaters - is inoculation statements. An inoculation statement is me at the outset letting you know that I am aware of your concerns and your objections. In other words, I've thought about them. I've thought about your perspective and here's why I still think this is the optimal way to address this particular problem. When I do that - remember that word respect, "to see again" - most people feel like they've been seen because you've spent time thinking about it from their perspective, and those kinds of questions get you there before your interactions and get you there during their interactions.

It's also something that helps prevent what psychologists called the backfire effect, which is a tendency for people to leave contentious conversations more convinced of their original position than they did going into them. If you think about that, it's not very rational because you were just exposed to different ways of thinking, to different ideas, to challenges to your logic, and then you come out of it thinking, "Yes, I'm pretty good. I'm correct." Think about Facebook. In the history of Facebook, nobody has ever left the Facebook debate thinking, "Maybe I am wrong." You just look for information that confirms your perspectives.

How does it earn influence? Think about it from a conflict resolution perspective about finding common grounds with somebody else. Reciprocity perspective: if I share some of what motivates me, I want to activate that type of curiosity within you, and also from a persuasion perspective.

One last thing I want you to think about is, what question would you add that's missing here? These are categories of questions. You think about different categories; one is you're listening, the other one here is you're clarifying, the other one is you're milestoning progress, the other one is you're getting behind what's motivating people essentially. What else is missing from this list? Anything you would just call out really quick?

Participant 14: What do you want me to do?

Ben-Yehuda: Ok. What do you want me to do? A variation of that. Really powerful. "How can I help?" is such a freaking powerful question, especially when it comes to earning influence. One more.

Participant 15: Do you want my input?

Ben-Yehuda: Ok. Do you want my input in the first place? And opening that up.

Putting it All Together

A few others that we'd like to share here is, "Well, what are people's needs, and how can I hear for those needs, and how might we addressed this?" And also, "Next steps," always ending these kinds of conversations with something that is in fact actionable. Something that you can do. Now, I'm going to share with you here a link for you when you pick a focus, so we'll have a summary of all the central points that we covered today and additional central points, because this is a two-hour workshop being condensed to 40 minutes.

This week, today, I want you to commit to doing at least one thing, doing one of these. It could be your snowball questions you're going to ask that to your manager, it could be that I'm going to actively listen at least three times in my next conversation. I'm going to do it with my wife or with my husband. I'm going to do it with my colleagues, it doesn't really matter. I'm going to select one of these questions that resonate most with me or that I'm weakest at, and I'm going to challenge myself to ask them at least once a day. But I'd like you to commit to doing at least one of these one time this week, which I don't think is a gigantic ask on my part.

Before you go I would love for you to grab your phone and check out the summary, if you want to check out a nice detailed summary of what we've covered now today. Also, you have there my email, and what I want to do is encourage you to continue this conversation beyond this particular session together. I know we're just touching the surface of some really deep topics, feel free to continue this conversation. You tried it and it worked, great. You tried it and it backfired, you want to share that with me as well? I encourage it. I get really happy where people in my sessions write to me, and I respond within 24 to 48 hours to such email. I thank you so much for your attention and for your time, and I wish you many fruitful and successful and meaningful questions.


See more presentations with transcripts

Recorded at:

Sep 02, 2019