When a question is not a question

“What do you mean” graffiti - image accompanying an article about Voiceprint and the real meaning of questions
All that counts in life is intention.
— Andrea Bocelli

We all do it…

We ask a question when, in our heads, we have something else we want to say.

“What do you think about that new restaurant down the road?” I ask my husband.

In VoicePrint terms, a simple, open-ended inquiry you might think.

My husband, wise to the ways of the world (and those of his wife) knows better than to fall for it.

“That’s not a question,” he states, using the voice of ‘Challenge.’ “What you really want to say is ‘I’d like to go to that new restaurant down the road.”

And he’s right. Add mind-reading to his already long list of accomplishments…

Asking a question when we don’t really mean to inquire is common mismatch between what we are trying to communicate and what we actually say.

We often use questions to convey something quite different either intentionally, or more often, without knowing we are doing it. This mismatch between our intention and our impact contributes to conversations that are not as productive as they could be.

Here are a couple of other scenarios you may be familiar with.

Have you ever asked someone in your team “when could you have that report on my desk?” when what you really meant to say was “I need that report on my desk by Tuesday afternoon at the latest”?

Or asked a leading question “Do you think it would be a good idea to talk to HR?” when what you really wanted to do was give the individual some advice or guidance, i.e., “if I were in your position, I would go and talk to HR.”

When you pay closer attention to what you and others say, it is easy to see that many forms of speech – suggestions, evaluations and contradictions – are often presented disguised in the form of a question. Being indirect like this might reduce the risk of causing offence, but it increases the danger of misunderstanding.

The moral of these stories is that, in general, it's better to be clearer — to use the right voice in the first place, the one that's fit for purpose.

The beauty of the VoicePrint model is that it offers an easy and accessible way to understand what we are trying to achieve in a conversation, and enables us to consciously choose an appropriate voice to match our intention. It makes conversations more productive on both sides. It reduces the frustration of “I wish they would just say what they really mean!”

I would encourage you to listen out for the other times when what is being said clearly doesn’t match what the speaker intends. It happens everywhere – on the news, on the radio, in everyday meetings. And we are good at sensing when things don’t match.

And look out for your own patterns. We all have our own common mismatches. I’m working on being clearer with my intention at home.

I wonder what my husband thinks of that.

And that really is an open-minded inquiry…

You can find out more about VoicePrint here.

Liz Palmer