“No question is a bad question,” or so we’ve been taught.
As a father of two elementary school boys, I can appreciate the intent of this statement which is grounded in a desire to encourage curiosity in impressionable young minds. But, at some point, we have to graduate and come to the realization this statement is pure hogwash.
Bad questions absolutely exist and are rampant all around us. Sometimes they can be obvious. Like asking a stranger what he feels like immediately after experiencing a traumatic loss, or asking a new mother who’s just named her child if she would consider a different name.
But most bad questions are generally much subtler. They often disguise themselves as informative questions, and that is what makes them so dangerous.
Information Can Be Dangerous
I do not profess to be the ultimate judge of good questions. My point is simply that every question you ask indelibly affects how you experience reality. For example, a person may hire someone who turns out to be a reckless, regrettable new employee because he only asked potential candidates questions about their experience and industry knowledge. The answers were informative but may have blinded him from seeing a terrible cultural fit; bad questions, honest answers, suboptimal results.
A more common market research example in healthcare is when brands ask physicians what they value most when deciding on products. Every physician I have ever met answers this question more or less the same way: Efficacy, followed by safety, patient experience, cost, and convenience. Despite the amazing consistency with which we hear this response, it is easy for brands to confuse this information with “insight” and develop strategies or communication platforms based on the findings. Unfortunately, what they soon discover is that physician behaviors out in the real world do not always mirror their stated values in research. Are physicians lying during market research? Or are we asking the wrong questions?
What People Know Versus What They Think They Know
Research respondents are generally very honest. They have little incentive to flat out lie. But when you ask questions about what they think they will do or how they think they will feel or what they believe they will consider when they’re ready to make a purchase, the results are about as reliable an indicator of future behavior as flipping a coin. People don’t behave how they think. They behave how they behave. So if you are looking to go beyond a shift in mindset to alter specific behaviors, make sure you’re not just asking what customers think, but rather asking questions that provide learnings of past and current behaviors. Questions matter.