“Stick with the facts, stay out of the emotion”

It’s all too tempting sometimes to be tempted to vent your frustrations on ‘the messenger’, and even more tempting on the ‘owner’ of the news. But before we talk about what are the right questions, lets spare a thought for ‘how’.

Before you launch into a full blown ‘rant’, just think for a moment – how would you like to be dealt with in this instance? … yes YOU!

The chances are that if you allow yourself a few moments it unlikely that you will come up with a list of wants like:

  • I don’t want to be listened too.
  • I want to be blamed for stuff that was beyond my
  • I’d like the person talking to me to have completely ignored the facts and failed to check their information.
  • I’d like to be treated as a subordinate.
  • I’d like to have my feelings ignored.
  • I’d like very much to not understand why was I doing this task in the first place.

… no I didn’t think so, but sometimes we just go right ahead and do this anyway.

So lets get onto what are the ‘right questions’ and then we’ll revisit this because in many cases we can completely destroy the whole ‘asking the right question’ by the way we deliver it!

Let me try and illustrate this with some examples:

Does your dog bite ?

You meet a person in the local pub and you notice a dog sat next to him at the bar. You are wanting to make a fuss of the dog so you do the right thing and ask: “excuse me does your dog bite?”

“no mate” comes the prompt reply

you offer a hand and

“ggggrrrrr” followed by SNAP the dog goes for you …

“hey, I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite ?” you snap angrily

“that’s not my dog’ comes the cool reply

Will you be delivering the component on Friday?


You are progressing a delivery with a supplier of a vital component

“will you be delivering on Friday as you originally said?

Since you have already told the supplier what they already had said, maybe they’ll just take the easy option and say …


where is it now?


You are checking the location of a delivery that is late “can you tell me where it is now?”

“sure ~ it’s in transit”

“oh great thanks”

So it’s on its way so all is now good?? So when your looking for information,  you have to give some thought to the perspective of the person your asking too. I see so many folks quote customer surveys but when l look at the actual questions then it’s hardly surprising that they got the result they got!

For example – lets say your going to ask some young people about views and knowledge on drugs – if you ask “do you know where to get drugs from” you will most likely get three polarized responses:

  1. No (the responder does in fact know, but why would they admit to something like that to you).
  2. Yes (the responder has no idea but wants to appear ‘cool’ about the subject because they feel they should.
  3. No (the responder is wholly law abiding and really has no idea).

… so without any thought as to the likely position of the responder what conclusion can you draw from the survey??

So the right question, or line of questioning is that which enables you to establish some kind of rapport and give you the ‘facts’ you were looking for – steering clear of any ’emotional baggage’. Sometimes considering the latter you may well need to engage another person who you trust to do ‘the asking’ if you think that you cannot establish the required rapport (not quite good cop / bad cop but you get the idea).

So, what would be different in the examples from earlier?

Before asking the question of the ‘apparent dog owner’ – maybe it would have been an idea to clarify the situation before asking key questions.

“Is that your dog?”

This would have clarified who owned the knowledge on the subject before making any assumptions.

And for the second example maybe “will you be delivering on Friday” will have provided a better outcome!

By Ian M Travers