Art of asking questions

Keep the flow conversational. If you make it accusatory, you can expect defensive replies.

In the aftermath of Jayalalithaa’s death, one of the leading newspapers carried an article, “Of two interviews, two traits.” It was written that Jayalalithaa was lively in one show but quite the opposite in the other. The tone and tenor of the article placed the onus of answering squarely on the interviewee. 

On the other hand, asking questions in a manner that others would want to answer is one of the basic qualities we try to teach those working in the customer care industry during soft skills training sessions. Some rationalist would ask, “Isn’t the above common sense? Does this homily need to the taught?”

Of the two interviews of the late Tamil Nadu chief minister, the dignified response she gave in one of the iconic ones was to a large extent due to the way the interviewer drew out the answers. There wasn’t a trace of arrogance, accusation or judgement in the tone or tenor of the questions asked. No wonder, the response, too, brought out the more humane side of Jayalalithaa.

The other interviewer, however, had a penchant for making anyone who appeared on the show defensive because of the malice shown in the line of questioning. It may be because of the TRPs or in the way the programme was conceived, but the fact is that the boorishness displayed could have made anyone’s hackles rise up. It is natural then that the more stubborn ones would like to dig their heels strongly and refuse to budge from their stand.

You keep the flow conversational, it remains that way. You make it accusatory or interrogative, you are bound to get defensive and that is what happened.

In recent times, many news channels have a very derisive way of questioning or interviewing. Talk show hosts cut off the speaker mid-way. It looks almost as if the hosts would rather listen to what he/she wants to hear and not what the other wants to say. It’s well-known that most private channels are not completely objective but I think effort can be taken to maintain the basic decency of allowing the other to complete the sentence. It is plain rudeness not to listen to others. 

Today, the growth of the customer care sector has many employees being hired to make cold calls or to sell products or services. We have youth right out of college, wet behind their ears coming out into the big, bad world to meet strangers and pose questions, hoping there would be a Eureka moment when the stranger would feel the real need to possess a product or service.

In our country, there is an extremely fine line between small talk and prying! Hard selling, be it in any sphere, is bound to have a negative impact and we would never get the required result. Asking questions in a manner that elicits answers is what works. Ask, delve, get answers and let viewers use their intelligence for better understanding.

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