It’s a Question of Style

Recently I was a participant in a training for a very specialized interview technique. As we listened to the background and the purpose for the methods we were to learn, I immediately began connecting with my previous training and experience as a mediator.

We were asked to come up with five great questions that we could use to build momentum in the interview. I wrote five questions. I have to confess; I didn’t write five different questions. In fact, I didn’t write two.

I wrote five versions of the same question.

In my estimation, each one was an improvement on the previous. Some were more succinct. Others were more elegant. Number Five was pretty close to perfect . . . in my estimation.

So, when my turn came, I offered my question.

Scarcely had my mouth closed when another trainee, a veteran of dozens of these trainings, offered constructive criticism. I had begun my question with “Tell me about a moment  . . .”

“Never say ‘Tell me,'” he offered. “Doing that places the emphasis on you instead of the person you are interviewing.” He and the instructor then went on to offer alternatives.

Dutifully, I wrote them down. It hasn’t been twenty-four hours and I’ve revisited that advice a dozen times.

And, I now firmly believe that advice was wrong — at least for me.

I understand the higher purpose of placing the other person in a place of prominence where your attention is riveted on her story. Yet, it misses the very important element of relationship between the two people in the conversation.

When I ask you to “tell me about” something important to you, I invite you to deepen our relationship. I enlist your partnership in the conversation. In this time of disengagement from others and intentional isolation, people are searching for others who care enough to connect.

So, the next time we sit down for coffee and you say, “Tell me about your day . . .”, I’ll be smiling. I’m sitting with someone who wants to share information and relationship.


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