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When are questions more powerful than statements?


Following on from my last Article I thought I would continue with some more fascinating ideas from a keynote talk by the author and speaker Daniel Pink.

As a leader you are interested in influencing the people you are responsible for, whether they are employed or voluntary. Encouraging them to buy into your vision for how you can see the organisation growing and performing. So would it be ok if I shared with you some views on creating more influence?

When are questions more powerful than statements?

In 1980 in the USA Ronald Reagan was challenging the incumbent Jimmy Carter. Reagan was somewhat unknown compared to Carter at the time. He needed to persuade and he needed a core message. They focused on economics and instead of stating that the electorate was worse off, he used a question to persuade. He used a question to change behaviour.

He simply asked “Ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?

Economically most Americans perceived themselves to be worse off in 1980 than in 1976, so the “facts” that supported how people would answer the question were in Reagan’s favour.

However, fast forward a few decades and in 2012 the Republican candidate Mitt Romney used the same phrase on Obama. The problem for him was that even though people felt less prosperous in 2012, they felt much better off than in the shattering crash of 2008. So apparently after several days they withdrew that slogan.

Daniel Pink says that from the research if you want to persuade, then there are times to use questions and times to use statements.

Questions by their very nature elicit an active response. They are a little more engaging than statements as the listener has to come up with their own reasons and actions.

When people come up with their own reasons for doing something they believe those reasons more deeply and adhere to the behaviour more strongly.

So in many cases asking questions beats statements. Remember that when the facts are clearly on your side, persuade with questions. (To some of us this may seem a little counterintuitive as we may think that the answer is obvious so let’s “state fact”. We may want to “keep control” instead of “opening it up to consideration” by asking questions).

On the other hand, where the facts may be in dispute then they can have the opposite effect as with the example of the 2012 Republican election campaign. So in those situations make statements.

So when is your next opportunity to persuade and if the facts are on your side what questions could you ask to create more buy-in?

Matthew Broomhead
“Raising the level of Business Skills in Britain”
Creator of Broomhead Business Channel

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