Questions: Powerful Manipulators?

One of the most interesting questions about questions is ‘What are you asking your questions for?’

Of course, there are all kinds of reasons why we ask questions, and I imagine the first thing that springs to mind when you think, ‘Why am I asking a question?’ is that you want to get information.

Quizzical catBut if you think about why other people ask questions, you can probably come up with examples of where people have asked questions just to score points off another person.

You might ask questions to help another person to do their very best thinking, as questions might help them to clarify what they’re thinking and what they really mean.

And you can also use questions to change a person’s emotional state. This is very important, particularly when we’re working remotely from each other, but something that people often miss.

Using Questions To Change State

I’d like to explain a bit about how this last point works.

What happens when you are asked a question?

If you’re like most people, you think about it; you go inside and you search for the answer.

It seems that human beings can’t help but go inside to search for the answer when they’re asked a question. The interesting thing about this is that it means if you ask a particular question, you are directing the other person’s attention; you are controlling their emotional state, just for that instant.

It starts to sound really quite manipulative when you think about it, and it is – or it can be.

Notice what happens when I ask a question like, ‘When was the last time you were really curious about something? What did that curiosity feel like? Whereabouts in your body did you feel that curiosity? Did that curiosity have a size or a shape?’

Your attention is being directed to that emotion of curiosity and, as a result, it increases your current sense of curiosity.

Now, if I want to make sure everybody is feeling curious to hear more about what I’m going to say, I don’t think anyone would consider that as particularly manipulative. But the same process can be used for a whole bunch of other things.

If you, as the questioner, can direct someone’s attention with your questions, you can direct their energy, because where attention goes, energy flows.

That’s an interesting feature of questions that’s hidden in plain view, and I think it deserves to be made more explicit.

3 thoughts on “Questions: Powerful Manipulators?”

  1. can you ask yourself questions to change your own emotional state or would that be like being caught in the reflections of two mirrors.?

  2. Hi Heather, yes, you certainly can change your own state with questions. For example, if you’re not having fun, asking yourself the Power Switch question, “And when {all this is happening}, what would I *like* to have happen?” can be very useful.

    For example, I might ask myself, “And when the ****ing printer is printing all blotchy, and I have only 25 minutes before I need to get out of the door to get to this corporate training, what would I *like* to have happen?” What I’d like, of course, is for the printer to work properly. But it’s broken. So I ask again, a slightly different question. “And when the printer is broken, *and* I have 25 minutes, what would I *like* to have happen?”

    It’s quite a clever way of taking my attention up and beyond the immediate problem. “I’d like the training to go brilliantly… I wonder how I can make that happen without the handouts?”

    You’ll find out more about the Power Switch in the Metaphor Mastery training you’ve just joined:

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