January 13, 2021

A Short Explanation of Why “Asking Questions” Usually Works Better than Giving Advice.

As described by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an influential American scientist, it can be argued that there are three categories of truths: Personal, political and objective truths.

The beautiful thing about the objective truths is that they are established by evidence. Not by faith or incessant repetition. They are observed, experimented and measured.

 

These objective truths can offer insights about “why” and “how” some approaches usually help us get better results than others.

In this short post, I’ll introduce an objective truth that resulted from a scientific study and that could explain why “asking questions” is an effective approach.

How you introduce a piece of information is more important than its scientific credibility.

According to Contradictory Reasoning Network Study conducted in 2014, when the subjects were shown a piece of evidence that contradicted their preconceptions, the blood flowed away from the reasoning part of the brain into the working memory area (right inferior frontal cortex).

In other words: Trying to directly show someone they are wrong, even via facts, literally makes them shut the logic off and hold to their beliefs more stubbornly.

Since I found the findings extremely insightful, I directly contacted one of the research team members of the study who is a PhD in Functional Neuroimaging, and he confirmed this interpretation is valid.

So, the hypothesis is “rather than giving direct advice that could conflict with their beliefs, helping people find their answers by asking questions can generate better transformational results.” However, this doesn’t mean using coaching tools is always the right tactical action and people should never be prescriptive.

Creating a rigid decision framework around this topic has limited benefits, and a good approach can be context-dependent, but that is a subject for another article.

This is also why “session agreements” work.

If a group of people with a shared goal need to make a relatively quick decision about a topic, and if we know that some of them may hold widely different opinions (regardless if these are objective truths or not), facilitating it without going down the rabbit hole might be difficult. Using session agreements can also help mitigate the aforementioned cognitive effect.

We can start with a simple rule “No-one gets to be wrong in this session”, which basically means “We may find out what you say is wrong, but it does not mean YOU are wrong”.

Why can it help? Because by shifting from “who” to “what”, we design an alliance and make it clear the participants should not see any emerging information as a threat to who they are.

It is an invitation to become more “welcoming”. It’s a way to hack our brains against a potential cognitive dissonance when faced with conflicting information.

Conclusion and Discussion.

A search for the best evidence available decreases politics and improves transparency. It enables healthy inspection and adaptation.

Asking questions rather than prescribing solutions and designing an alliance to shift the focus from “who” to “what” could make it easier for people to find and embrace the objective truths.

What is your experience? Do you agree? What other approaches do you use to make sure people can have healthy conflicts and seek the objective truth?

Feel free to comment or contact me to discuss: sahin@vaxmo.co.uk