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Want To Know How To Ask Questions? Longtime Journalist Shows How It’s Done In New Book

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With the rise of podcasting and the shortage of civil dialog he was seeing round him, writer and longtime journalist Dean Nelson (@deanenelson) says it struck him as a perfect time to put in writing a e-book demystifying the art of asking others questions.

“It just felt like, well, I know something about it. I think the world needs it, and there is this rising interest in long, deep conversation, either through podcasts or I think just in civil life,” says Nelson, who lately released his new ebook, “Talk To Me: How to Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers, and Interview Anyone Like a Pro.”

Preparation ahead of time, asking open-ended questions, all the time recording your self and your topic — there are a number of elements that go into a very good interview, says Nelson (@deanenelson). What’s especially necessary to remember is “the difference between just sensationalizing and doing something because it’s important,” he says.

“Sometimes, you really have to press forward in an interview to get at something,” Nelson tells Right here & Now’s Lisa Mullins. “This is where the discernment comes in.

“Are you getting into some of this deeper, more complicated, maybe more uncomfortable stuff just because it’s an audience-getter and a ratings-getter, or are you doing it because it’s really important that we develop this?”

Interview Highlights

On how crucial it is to organize for an interview

“I just was on somebody’s podcast just a day or two ago, and I was amazed at how well prepared this guy was. He knew what he wanted to ask, he knew the order he wanted to ask the questions in -— he kind of knew where it was going. So, I would say that kind of preparation makes all the difference in the world.”

On what info you need to get out of the individual you’re interviewing

“It’s who is this person? Why should we care about this person? And what are we going to talk about that is going to be sufficiently interesting? If you can at least think that one through, you’re ahead of a lot of people.”

On the stability between asking questions which are too open-ended and too closed-ended

“I think when you ask open-ended questions, that’s always going to elicit a better answer or a better response than a closed-ended [question]. For example, ‘Where were you born?’ — well, I could say Chicago — as opposed to, ‘What was it like growing up in Chicago?’ If you’re a good interviewer you already know that I was born in Chicago. You’ve done your homework. Ask it in some way that will draw the person out as opposed to just kind of the one-word answers.

“The danger of the open-ended question is making it so open-ended. I use the example of after some sort of phenomenal Olympic achievement, somebody has just done something that’s never been done before and an interviewer will say, ‘What does it feel like?’ Well, that’s so open-ended, it doesn’t feel like anything. It’s never been done before.

“This goes back to the preparation: If you’ve actually looked into who some of these athletes are or what they’ve overcome, I would draw from that. I think a great one that I saw not too long ago was at the end of the Stanley Cup [Championship], the interviewer asked one of the players about having his dad in the rink on the day that the Stanley Cup was won. The interviewer knew that the dad was there. He had some sort of dementia. His dad didn’t really know where he was, but his sheer presence in the stands was so important to the player that instead of, ‘How does it feel to win the Stanley Cup?,’ it was, ‘How does it feel to win the Stanley Cup in front of your father, who has come to all these games who took you to early hockey practice when you were a kid?’ Now, that really elicited humanity out of that player.”

On the way to be sure that as an interviewer, your accuracy and fairness doesn’t get questioned

“If you’re recording the interview for instance, you’re in pretty good shape. … There are times that I advise that it’s appropriate to type up your notes of what the person said, figure out which quotes you’re going to use in your story or in your interview and send those quotes to your source and say, ‘I’m not asking for you to correct these. I’m not asking for you to walk it back. I’m just saying this is what I wrote down — did you say it?’

“When somebody says, ‘I don’t want you to use that quote’ … I just kind of cut a deal with the person, and I said, ‘Alright. I will not use this quote under one condition, and that is you give me something better.’ … And the person said, ‘I’ll call you back in a couple hours.’ So, he did, and he did give me something better. He so badly didn’t want me to use certain quotes, but he was able to make my story so much better, because he gave me something deeper and more thoughtful and frankly more complicated, and that’s what made the story better.

On how to ask tough questions

“I’ll give you an example. … I asked a question of the author Tracy Kidder, a man I admire a great deal, but he depends a lot on people’s memories for his accounts of what he writes about. So, I just asked him, ‘How do you know that that’s even true? Aren’t memories kind of tricky?’ And he gave a very thoughtful answer about how much can you actually trust somebody’s memory of something that happened 20 years ago, 50 years ago. You could have seen that as a challenge to his accuracy, to his professionalism, but by the time I asked it, he trusted me enough to know that I wasn’t attacking him, and then I think he gave a really thoughtful response.”

On the importance of asking deep questions

“I just think there’s a way to talk to each other that is healthy and good and that helps us more deeply understand things. And If we did more of that and accepted maybe a little more complexity and a little more nuance, instead of just trying to score points or try to convince our audience of how smart or how superior we are, I think we’d get a little further in how we relate to one another.

“I don’t think we were only just now coming to a place where we’re not listening to one another. I think egos have always gotten in the way of really relating to one another. But, maybe it’s a little more heightened now. So, on the one hand, yeah, I think I’m dealing with a modern social problem. But on the other hand, I think I’m dealing with something that’s been with us since we began talking to each other.”

Book Excerpt: ‘Speak To Me: How to Ask Higher Questions, Get Higher Answers, and Interview Anyone Like a Pro’

By Dean Nelson

We Have Questions; We Want Answers

I have discovered lots about interviewing because the Dizzy Gillespie occasion— at first that interviewing is more widespread than most of us understand. We ask questions each day because we have to know something, or as a result of we’d like info so our next determination will probably be an knowledgeable one, or we would like to have the ability to share wisdom, or we need to avoid hassle, or perhaps we are simply nosy.

Principally, we try to realize perspective on one thing. If we depend solely on our own ideas and observations and don’t take into consideration the ideas and observations of others who aren’t identical to us, we run the danger of coming to inaccurate conclusions and probably taking dangerous actions. Different views reveal our personal biases and assumptions. And think of what might have been completed (and prevented!) in our historical past had we simply asked a couple of extra questions. Asking good questions keeps us from dwelling in our own echo chambers.

Consider the questions we have now heard or have requested— questions so simple as: “What is the secret to your chocolate chip cookies?” “What happened at school today?” “Did you think about the consequences?” “Would you like to have dinner with me?” “Will you marry me?” “Why is the coffee al-ways gone?” On the one hand, these are simply questions. But they will result in other questions and turn out to be conversations that may draw out personalities and understandings. They will turn out to be a sort of interview.

The questions that encompass us may be simple and obvious; they could be cosmic and profound. However they all serve a perform. Contemplate the following situations from everyday life— on this case mine:

There’s a plate of spaghetti on the ground, and the canine is eating it as if he had been ready his complete life for this moment; his tail is wagging exhausting sufficient to spin a turbine. I take a look at my younger son. He’s standing, frozen in place, arms outstretched, eyes as huge because the plate that’s the wrong way up on the floor instantly underneath his arms. I take a look at my daughter, who is three years youthful than my son. She is on the kitchen desk, silently crying. Not because of the lost spaghetti or the stained carpet, but because she thinks I am going to punish the dog.

“What happened?” I ask.

That’s an interview query. It’s a dumb interview question (extra on asking dumb questions later), as a result of it’s obvious what happened. Nevertheless it’s an interview question nonetheless. Perhaps a better question can be “How did this hap-pen?” And then “What do you think is about to happen?”

Everybody Is an Interviewer

Insurance coverage adjusters, social staff, legal professionals, nurses, academics, investigators, therapists, podcast hosts, customer support representatives, bankers, and cops spend a great part of every day asking questions. And that’s what an interview is: a purposeful collection of questions that results in understanding, in-sight, and perspective on a given matter. What these individuals do subsequent depends upon the quality of the solutions they get. And the standard of those solutions has rather a lot to do with the quality of the questions.

I once had a physician who never appeared up from his pc display when he asked me questions. I had visits in his examination room for a torn rotator cuff, skin cancer, migraines, and annual physicals. I might barely describe him to you, because all I ever actually noticed was his hairline over the display. He requested questions and pounded on those keys like he was making an attempt to smash a scorpion beneath the keyboard.

In that same clinic I had a physician who asked me questions other than just what my symptoms have been and how typically I used to be going to the toilet. We talked about our joint love for the lakes in Minnesota, and our joint lament over the standard of journalism in the country. The second doctor’s visits didn’t take much longer than the primary. However guess which physician I was prepared to be extra open with? Guess who was better capable of help me work out some of my bodily points?

Docs are underneath numerous strain from insurance corporations to spend as little time with patients as attainable and to document every little thing. I get it. But even medical journals write that the interviewing expertise of docs might be key to creating sufficient diagnoses and therapies for his or her sufferers. Good docs do greater than order a lot of checks. They ask questions. They pay attention. They consider. They comply with up. They interview.

Once I recognized the intentional line of questioning, I appreciated what the second doctor was doing. He wasn’t just attending to know me in an off-the-cuff sense. It wasn’t like we have been going to exit for drinks later. He was gathering info so he might develop a plan. He was, in an off-the-cuff method, taking my medical historical past, which is a term docs use for conducting an interview. It was a conversation, however directed toward a selected objective.

Other careers depend upon high quality interviews, too. A social employee I know advised me that how she works with a shopper de-pends on what that shopper tells her. And what that shopper tells her is a direct results of the questions she asks: “The interview is everything.” Similar story for human assets, the place the interview is the time you possibly can look previous that mountain of near-identical resumes and discover out what really sets a candidate apart. Regulation? A deposition is an interview. Jury selection is a collection of interviews. So is a trial, when legal professionals ask wit-nesses questions. Financial planners? I’ve never been requested more private questions than once I talked to a financial planner. He was involved in my household’s objectives, our definitions of success and luxury and security. Those have been all interview questions.

Journalists, in fact, ask numerous questions. It’s their job. Most of their careers depend upon their means to conduct a very good interview. As a journalist I’ve interviewed individuals who have been overjoyed, and people who have been overwhelmed. Profitable, and gutted. Winners and losers. Fascinating and uninteresting. Saintly and corrupt. Heroes and antichrists.

Nearly every career is determined by getting individuals to talk to you, and the good news is that conducting an excellent inter-view is something you possibly can study. We see docs, legal professionals, cops, and journalists on television or in films, and plainly they have a poised, skilled, assured manner once they conduct interviews. They seem like naturals. The exhibits give the impression that conducting an incredible interview depends solely on your being an extrovert with insatiable curiosity. We get a stereotype in our minds about interviewing, that we’re just born with the interviewing gene or we’re not. However I don’t assume that’s the case at all. Keep in mind, everyone is an interviewer. Each career has its occasions where we have to ask questions of strangers. Boisterous and confident individuals might be great interviewers. Marc Maron is excellent at this. He provides off an air that claims, “It’s so cool that you’re talking to me on my podcast, but of course you wanted to talk to me in the first place.” For Maron, it’s a mixture of little- kid marvel and vanity, and it really works for him. But shy and insecure individuals might be great interviewers, too. A few of the greatest interviewers I have seen are tentative, noncombative, soft- spoken individuals. Their personalities put individuals comfortable and make them straightforward to speak to. They know their topic properly, they usually know that their source might help them achieve even more understanding, and they’re okay with being weak. I heard the journalist Katherine Boo describe how she obtained individuals in Mumbai to be so open together with her in her e-book Behind the Lovely Forevers. She stated that she showed up so typically that folks kind of forgot that she was there.

Good interviewers are merely themselves. They’re not appearing. They’re curious. They know the best way to be quiet and pay attention. The genuine ones who ask good questions are the ones who extract profound answers as an alternative of clichés, and who get previous the surface and into one thing that not often gets explored.

Asking good questions in an excellent order that leads you to larger understanding will enhance any job, and any life. I have seen it occur with nearly every character sort, in nearly every professional context.


From the guide TALK TO ME. Copyright © by Dean Nelson. Revealed February 19, 2019 by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by Permission.


Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this story for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Jackson Cote tailored it for the online.