“You don’t have any questions do you?” This is what the contact lens specialist at my eye doctor’s office said to me at the end of my contact lens fitting appointment. What do you think my response was? Her question left me with only one possible response, “Uh, no, I don’t have any questions.”
This woman who waited on me was not trying to be abrupt or rude. She was stating a fact (in the form of a question) because in her assessment I was a seasoned contact lens wearer and she assumed I knew what I was doing. These are all valid assumptions however, her question left the impression on me that I shouldn’t have any questions, i.e., having a question would be wrong.
What’s interesting about this comment is that we do it all the time. We make statements or ask questions that limit communication rather than invite it. We often have no idea the world our communications create. In other words, how do the questions we ask influence the answers we get? Another way the above question could have been phrased that would have had a different outcome is, “What questions do you have?” or “I know you have worn contact lenses before, still I want to make sure, do you have any questions?” You can see this creates a different experience entirely. It is inviting a response from me; making me feel confortable and giving me a chance to see if I do have any questions.
Imagine eating a delicious meal in a fancy restaurant and as the server is clearing the dishes he or she says to you, “You don’t want dessert do you?” That would be offensive and somewhat strange. Who the heck is this person to assume what I want or don’t want?
Now think about your own communications with your staff or significant other or anyone for that matter. How much of what you say is shaped by your underlying assumptions about that person or about how that person thinks? Think about how strange and potentially offensive that might be. Questions and statements like, “You didn’t want to be considered for that position, right?” or “You’re all set on the Smith account, aren’t you?” or “Since you have young children I figured you don’t want to travel too much so I gave the promotion to Joe instead” are examples of how underlying assumptions sabotage a conversation.
It is essential that you become acutely aware of your assumptions and the power your wording has to make or break a communication if you want to enhance your effectiveness in communication.