Home

Are You Asking “You Idiot” Questions?

A question can be a statement in disguise. When you ask a “statement” question it can have the wrong impact on the person you are asking the question. Unless your intention is to give offense, it is important that you re-frame such questions so as to make sure that you aren’t behaving in a counter-productive manner.

A good way to identify whether your question will land properly is to see if you can put the words “you idiot” on the end of it. If you can, then your question almost certainly contains a critical element and it needs to be re-framed if you don’t want it to come across as an attack.

Consider these examples:

“Do you think that not giving the customer what they ask for will make them want to buy from us again, (you idiot)?“could become:

“I’m not sure what’s happened with the customer here. Could we go through it together and make sure they want to buy from us again?”

“Didn’t you realize that that the customer would be upset when you failed to call them back, (you idiot)?” could become

“The customer is upset because you didn’t call them back. Can we talk about what happened and how we can work to make it better?”

Rephrasing the question to drop the “you idiot” tone softens the aggression and creates a different dynamic in the conversation. It may also create a different result.

You may be reading this and be thinking that it all sounds too conciliatory, and isn’t your style. I can’t legislate for different situations and how you choose to manage them, but if you want to get the best result, then you will get more with honey than you will with vinegar.

It is essential to start with the end in mind, and before you enter into any potentially adversarial conversation with anybody – be they a subordinate, a customer, a supplier or any other relationship -- pause to ask yourself what you want the outcome to be. You may want to be aggressive and attack but, if you do, you must have decided beforehand that is the best strategy to get you what you want, and never do it out of current anger.

If you want to manage by reason rather than by fear, then you need to make sure that the “you idiot” ending stays in your mind….and that the questions framed with that ending never get expressed by your “outside voice”.