Ever wondered how to make sure you’re getting honest answers from the prospective employees and contractors you interview?
Open vs closed, direct vs indirect questions; supportive responses that normalise poor behaviour… it’s all been tried. Now a new study out of the University of Utah has found it’s all in the way you phrase your questions… and communicate your knowledge.
Study author Eric VanEpps refers to the way questions can be phrased as:
‘Positive assumption’ (assumes a particular problem does not exist or that a person does not engage in a particular problematic behaviour),
‘Negative assumption’ (assumes a particular problem does exist or that a person does engage in a particular problematic behaviour), and
‘General condition’ (a broad enquiry which lack a specific line of investigation or assumed behaviour).
VanEpps and his colleagues surmised that how a question is phrased provides an interviewee with valuable information about the interviewer and the response they’re looking for. Armed with this information, the interviewee will deliver a response that creates the best impression. They tested the supposition by asking study participants a series of differently phrased questions.
With reference to workplace behaviour for instance, participants were asked about their use of social media in the following different ways:
Positive assumption: “In a typical week, you don’t occasionally use work time for personal email or social media, right?”
Negative assumption: “In a typical week, you occasionally use work time for personal email or social media, right?”
General condition: “What can you tell us about your use of work time in a typical week?”
Participants who were asked negative assumption questions, which presumed they had engaged in the behaviour, admitted they had engaged in that behaviour more often than participants who were asked positive assumption questions. Furthermore, both negative assumption and positive assumption questions elicited disclosures about sensitive behaviours. However, general questions, failed to elicit any disclosures about the behaviour.
VanEpps concluded, “Carefully phrased questions can promote honesty… askers can phrase questions to communicate knowledge and assertive interaction intentions, and in turn, compel a self-interested conversation partner to be honest… general questions are not very effective in eliciting honest disclosures, and instead afford respondents with opportunities to lie by omission and redirect the conversation to other topics. Simply asking more questions in strategic settings may be insufficient to elicit the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Instead, people must ask the right questions, being mindful not only of the information they seek, but also of the information they reveal.”
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