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Volume 15, Issue 33;   August 19, 2015: When the Answer Isn't the Point: Part II

When the Answer Isn't the Point: Part II

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Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned, rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question wasn't the point of asking.
A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of an M-198 howitzer during training

A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of a M-198 howitzer during live fire and maneuver training of the 11th Marine Regiment on November 20, 2000, in the United Arab Emirates. One class of artillery tactics is known as harassing fire. The goal of harassing fire is to degrade enemy physical and psychological resources by firing at opposing positions at random points and at random times over long periods, thus limiting opponents' ability to rest and resupply. It is a tactic that relies for its success, in part, on ego depletion. Photo by Corporal Branden P. O'Brien, U.S. Marine Corps, courtesy Wikimedia.

In Part I of our exploration of behavioral assessment at work, we examined some relatively innocuous attributes of questions — ambiguity, arcane vocabulary, erroneous assumptions, and inappropriate language. But some people ask questions that are intended to rattle the person questioned, to assess their ability to maintain composure, or to reduce their stature. That is, in a public setting, in a strategy that relies for its effectiveness on ego depletion, the questioner might intend to cause the person questioned to lose composure, leading to regrettably embarrassing behavior, or worse.

Here are some of the hostile approaches in use. As in Part I, we use Alpha as the name of the Asker (a female), and Tango as the name of the Target (a male).

If the question contains insinuations about others…
Does Tango defend people in their absence? Does he ask about the details of the insinuation? Is he interested in gossip?
Does Tango consider all possibilities? Alpha might be trying to discover how Tango handles invitations to gossip. Or perhaps she merely seeks information.
If it's insulting…
Does Tango take offense? Or does he ask Alpha whether she is aware of the offense, before enlightening her?
Alpha might be trying to determine whether, how, or how effectively Tango stands up for himself.
If it's already been asked repeatedly…
Is Tango Some people ask questions that
are intended to rattle the person
questioned, to assess their ability
to maintain composure, or to
reduce their stature
impatient? Does he lose control when Alpha repeats the same question in different forms? Or does he ask Alpha what was missing from his previous answers?
Asking the same question repeatedly, in different forms, can be annoying, because it can indicate distrust, suspicion, or disrespect for Tango's time. How does Tango deal with repetitive questioning?
If the questioner interrupts repeatedly…
After Alpha interrupts Tango in mid-response, can Tango resume and smoothly continue his response? Or does he have trouble remembering what he was about to say?
Mental quickness and excellent short-term memory can be valuable assets. How quick is Tango? How good is his memory? Can he thrive in contention with the sharp minds on this team?
If the questioner asks four questions at once…
As Tango responds, can he remember all four questions? This is another test of memory and mental agility.
Combining this test with repeated interruptions can reveal much about Tango's abilities under pressure, but only if Alpha can keep the four questions straight herself.
If it's arrogant and condescending
When Alpha's manner is brusque, condescending, or disrespectful, does Tango address the affront? How? Can he disarm her?
Knowing Tango's abilities in contentious situations can be useful to Alpha if she must deal with him in the future, whether as friend or foe.

There are no right answers. Much depends on the relationship between Alpha and Tango. But Tango can probably achieve better results by preparing for these situations than he can achieve unprepared. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: That Was a Yes-or-No Question: Part I  Next Issue

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