Simple. Open. Questions. (Issue 849)

In which we are reminded not to hint at expected answers when we ask questions.

Every few years, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts invites me to refresh my driver’s license.

Last week, I went to the Registry of Motor Vehicles first thing in the morning.

“Why are you here?”, inquired the friendly person at the desk.

“To renew my driver’s license, please.” I handed him my application and my current driver’s license.

A few keystrokes later he said, “The first step is the eye test. Look into the machine.” I did.

“Read the second line.”   I did.

“OK, still looking into the machine. See the shapes?” I did.

“Tell me the colors left to right.” I did.

“OK, last activity. Still looking into the machine.  See the white dot in the middle of the squares?”


And now we come to the point of the story. His next question was, “Do you see the blinking dots?”

It didn’t take much thinking to guess that he was expecting me to answer, “yes.”

In fact, I did see the blinking dots, one to the far left and one to the far right. However, even if I didn’t see them, I could have followed his flow and answered, “yes.”  [Afterward, I wondered, “How many people answer “yes” even ‘though they can’t see the blinking dots?”]

Alternatively, he could have asked What else do you see? (a simple, open-ended question).

No clue to the right answer there.  Perfect!

There is a related error that shows up in questions like this: “How’s it going with receivables processing? Are you seeing a reduction in speed or an increase in errors or any other symptoms of a problem?”

Again, it doesn’t take much thinking to guess that the questioner is looking for “yes” answers there.

To eliminate that bias, sellers could ask, What trends do you see in processing speeds and errors? (a simple open-ended question).

Again, no clue to the right answer…. which helps us, as sales people or consultants, to obtain more transparent facts or opinions and reactions.

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