The other day I lamented on Twitter that one day someone would ask me “Why did you use X?” and not “Why DIDN’T you use Y?” in a tech talk.
When you go into a talk, thinking you know everything about it and what it means, you close your mind. You start by ignoring the possibility that other people can have amazing thoughts and ideas too. You limit yourself. Your preconceived notions color how you think because you limit your experiences to that which you have personally.
This is much the same as why a number of people seem to lack empathy until they’re personally impacted. That’s why you hear men say things like “I didn’t become a feminist until I had a daughter.” A number of people nod and understand his meaning is that it wasn’t personal. But a number of people also wonder what the hell is wrong with someone not to care about humans in general. Doesn’t that man have a mother? A grandmother?
Once you allow yourself to accept the simple idea that someone else thinks a different way from you, you open your mind to a new world.
There’s a difference between listening and hearing. We all listen. But once you start thinking about what your reply will be, and not listening to what’s behind what the other person said, you limit yourself. I see a lot of people sit in talks and you can tell when they tune out because they’ve decided “I want to know X.” and that will be their question. Instead of writing it down to ask, they block out everything. They concentrate on their reply.
Notice how I said ‘reply’ and not ‘question’?
Yeah. There’s a reason.
When you go up to ask someone a question based on their talk, you’re not playing Jeopardy. The game isn’t “Phrase my answer like it was a question.” The point is to to ask something to understand a little better how someone else reached a conclusion. It’s the fundamental difference between “Why didn’t you use the Post 2 Posts plugin?” and “What did you use to connect the posts to each other and why?” The first one makes your preference known. It makes an assumption that obviously everyone would use Posts 2 Posts. The second one asks to get into the mind of the speaker, to learn the way another mind works. It assumes the other person is different from you.
When you ask what someone used, and why, you get an insight into their process, which may help you reflect on your own. You may find new answers, and all you have to do is remove your own ego from the question.
The point of this is not to make a speaker’s life easier, but to make yours better. If you change just two small things in how you ask questions, you’ll find you can learn a whole lot more.
- Write down the question you want to ask
- Ask it without assuming you know the best answer
You may be surprised how the tone of the ask changes everything.