Try this.

Next time a friend or a colleague asks you a question, feel free to answer, and then ask that person the same question back. I don’t know why this happens – this comes from no academic study that I know of – but I have found this to be consistently true.

People ask those things that they themselves want to be asked.

Maybe it’s because … people are practicing those questions in their head (speaking to themselves), and one day they ask that question aloud of someone.

Maybe it’s because … people can think of a personal answer while they are asking a question.

Maybe it’s because … these are typical questions that go on in the person’s head day in and day out, and the listener isn’t always with that person, and so doesn’t hear that question asked again and again. Perhaps Joselle asks everyone she meets, “Which is better – making more money but hating your job, or making less money but liking it a little more?” Maybe that’s just Joselle’s standard question.

* “How are you?” – That person often wants to be asked how they are.
* “How are you getting on with your business partner?” – That person often wants to be asked about his/her business partner or work colleagues.
* “How many hours of TV do you let your child watch per day?” – This person is often thinking of how many hours are appropriate for his/her child.

Enjoy asking people those questions they want to be asked anyway!

In coaching, I often think about how to ask a person questions so that I can understand more of his world. Sometimes it feels as if there are not enough details, or I don’t quite see a situation from her point of view.

In this case, it’s natural to want to ask, “Is there anything more you can tell me?”

But that question is often a dead-end because to a degree it presupposes that, um, no, there’s not anything more that the person can tell me. “Well is there any other way that you could structure your day so that you have healthier food around you?” Um, no, not really, I’m already doing everything I can think of.

Try this question:
“What is some other way that you could structure your day so that you have healthier food around you?”

What did I do differently here?
1) I made it an open-ended question. “What is some way …?” as opposed to “Is there …?”
2) I asked about some way as opposed to any way.

I know this sounds silly – it’s just ONE WORD. On the other hand, you unburden the word by making it open: SOME vs. ANY. You put a new pre-supposition in there. The assumption is that there is some way. Or perhaps together we could think of some way.

“What are some new ways that we could approach this company and this department if you want a job here?”

“Well, I’ve already talked to my contacts there, and I’ve approached the person who has the same responsibilities as me.”

“What might be some other ways?”

“Well, I could contact someone else.”

“Great, who might be some other people that you could contact? What might their roles be? What might they be involved with at the company?”

The openness of “some” and of open-ended “what” questions can move you closer to something true that leads to action. Enjoy!

If you tend to describe a friend by saying, “she’s nice, but a real gossip,” then people may start to associate “gossip” with you. If you call someone dumb, people may start to associate dumbness with you. If you decribe how beautiful your friend is, then people may think of you as beautiful.

She's hot

So shows the research by Mae, Carlston, and Skowronski (1998). David Myers summarizes the Mae et. al. research as a particular tendency that people have “when hearing someone say something good or bad about another, to associate the good or bad trait with the speaker.” Furthermore, Myers points out that this could mean that bearers of bad news get disliked, as do strangers that may remind someone of a disliked person.

This is part of a set of research called “spontaneous trait inference,” which includes infering something about a person based on how you may hear that person describe others. (Also within this field, researchers study the effects of describing, for example, a sad event while drinking coffee, and then the trait of sadness being spontaneously from that point on associated unconsciously with coffee).

One study in this field by Mae, Carlston, Skowronski, and Crawford (1999) works like this: participants are asked to memorize some photo and text pairings, such as a photo of a woman and a description about her character, and then later participants are asked to rank the woman on her character. In the same study, another group is asked to memorize pairings of a photo of a woman and a quote that she uses to describe a friend of hers, and then later participants are asked to rank the woman on her character, and the conclusions drawn about the speaker’s character are the same as if she had been describing herself and not her friend.

Even when in a different study, participants are told that pairings of photos and text are random, participants still describe (when asked two days later) the person in the photo as “cruel” or “kind” depending on the random text that had been written next to the photo. Another study in the Mae et. al. (1999) paper is when participants watch a videotape of actors pretending to be college students that describe their friends. Again, people tranfer those descriptions of friends onto the “college students” themselves.

Here is a cute article in Self-Help Magazine about being careful with gosssip. In the Mae et. al. (1999) study, the authors end the paper with their thoughts, “This has significant practical and theoretical implications. It suggests that gossip and other forms of social discourse may have rather surprising, and often unintended, implications for a communicator. Thus, it supports the cliche that if one cannot say something nice about someone, one ought not to say anything at all. It also indicates that self-presenters may achieve desired trait attributions merely by talking about others who have the desired traits.”

Here, here, and here are some additional articles in this field. Could it then be that you are what you say?