Usable Insight – Forget Questions, Fill in the Blanks

With questions, people feel you are talking at them;
with fill-in-the-blanks*, people feel you are talking with them.

Whenever you ask questions (which you believe communicates a sincere interest), it causes many people to feel challenged and that they’d better give the right answer or else they will feel wrong or stupid. The reason for this is that people have flash backs from times they were put on the spot by teachers, parents, coaches, etc. that didn’t feel positive.

However, when you re-frame and re-phrase what you say as a “fill in the blanks” (the “Mad Libs”craze used this approach some years ago), people feel as if you have moved from an “in-your-face” adversarial position to one where you are by their side like a loving or trusted uncle, aunt, grandfather or grandmother who is saying: “C’mon. Let’s talk this out, we’ll find a solution.”

Try it yourself. See how different it feels for me to ask you: “What are your goals?” as compared to: “We’re meeting together now, because you’re wanting to accomplish ———-. And the reason it is important for you to do that now is ——–. And if you could accomplish that it would benefit you by——-.”

This is part of an approach to gaining agreement and cooperation vs. hard selling and triggering resistance derived from training experienced FBI and police hostage negotiators. To find out more about this approach, contact Dr. Goulston at:

* From “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

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One Response to “Usable Insight – Forget Questions, Fill in the Blanks”

  1. Matt Anderson Says:

    I always enjoy reading your insights on your blog. The delivery and tone of the message delivered matters. Does this person really have a sincere interest in my success? happiness? I would consider adding another question. How may help? How may I be of service? As the great salesman, author and mentor Zig Ziglar stated:

    “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

    Warmest Regards,