Mind control: Asking the magic questions
Asking the right questions can influence a person’s instinctive thought processes and their subsequent behavior
By Lt. Jim Glennon, Lombard, IL (ret.)
Active listening is one of the most important communication skills a cop can have — in fact, it’s a skill I’ll write about in a future column. A big part of what makes listening active is the ability to ask the right questions, at the right times — these are the magic questions. I could spend days, weeks, months, years writing about the power of questions, but that would be both boring and really, really difficult. Everyone knows how to ask a question, but developing the ability to ask the magic questions is another matter altogether.
Most people see questions simply as a way to obtain information, but they’re so much more than catalysts for answers. Properly asked questions can enable the person posing them to control the entire interaction.
If you can learn to ask the right questions at the right times, you’ll be able to:
Pretty appealing list of abilities, huh? Here are a few tips to keep in mind that will start you toward having this magical skill set.
What’s My Motivation?
Well, “Huh?” isn’t exactly a shining example of a great question, but it illustrates the point: A question almost always compels a response — a question almost always provokes some type of thought process. So if you want to motivate yourself — or another person — to take action, just ask a question designed to inspire or compel movement.
Pain & Pleasure
Let’s set aside for the moment the task of motivating and influencing others, and think just about motivating and influencing ourselves. If you ask yourself positive, motivating, and empowering questions you will almost certainly receive positive, motivating, and empowering responses. Ask depressing, negative, dead-end questions and the responses will likewise be negative. Remember the pain-and-pleasure principle and learn to ask questions designed to compel the desired response.
Physical Illustration of Cognitive Process
On the other hand, if you can direct your focus past the painful aspects of establishing a particular habit and concentrate on the eventual benefits, you will be more likely to take action and make that change. And that’s where questions come in: Asking them helps you evaluate where you are now, where you want to be, and how you can get there.
Jogging is a good example that illustrates this point. I hate it. I associate jogging with absolute and unquestionable pain, and lots of it. But I still do it, for about 30 minutes a day, five or six days a week. I do it inside on treadmills or ellipticals, outside on paths and along sidewalks. It’s boring, it hurts my legs, it reminds me that I’m aging, it makes me breathe heavily, and I know I look stupid to those who really enjoy running as they pass me by in their designer gear. Come to think of it, I hate them, too.
So why do I do it if I find jogging painful and, according to the theory, humans have an innate need to avoid pain? Simple: I do it because I believe that if I don’t, greater pain will be the ultimate result — that if I miss just a couple of days, the result will be an immediate, and very negative, change in my currently pristine coronary arteries. And this will result in a hugely painful episode: dropping dead. Why do I believe these things? Because of the internal questions I ask myself.
Both an uncle and a grandfather of mine died of a heart attack in their 40s, and the thought of that reality is much, much more painful than what I experience while jogging. In fact, despite my avowed hatred for the activity, on another level, I actually love to run. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Well, for me it does, and here’s why: I have learned to develop an empowering perspective about this subject by asking myself questions designed to motivate me.
The empowering perspective involves ignoring any thought of the physical pain associated with my runs. I don’t allow myself to think about the running itself — which I do hate — or the pain in my legs and the heavy breathing. Instead, I redirect my focus by asking myself the right questions:
You get the picture. Give it a shot.
Motivating yourself with the application of the right questions, at the right times, is your first step toward understanding the dynamics of asking the magic questions. Next time, we’ll examine what a magic question is, and and talk about applying these principles to our professional goal: motivating and influencing others.
|Back to previous page|