Ask a Question, Then Let Them Answer It

Asking a Question (all rights reserved)

When you ask a question, please wait for it to be answered.

I was listening to a podcast from the ABC' (Australian Broadcasting Commission) Big Ideas series yesterday. Bret Easton Ellis was being interviewed by Simon Marnie at the Byron Bay Writers Festival in 2010.  It was a great interview in which Ellis said a lot about how and why he writes.  The interviewer saved a question for last.  It was a question from his 17 year old son, who had been studying Ellis's American Psycho at high school.  We waited with bated breath for the question to be asked.  The interviewer took questions from other people first, and then posed his son's question.  Ellis said it was the best question of the session, people laughed and applauded, and then the interviewer closed the interview.  He did not let Ellis answer the question, even after it had been identified as the best question of the interview.

I appreciate that the interviewer may have been following the maxim, 'always leave them wanting' (attributed to both Walt Disney and PT Barnum).  But I saw it as a lost opportunity to learn more about this fascinating and complex writer.

You really need to know a bit about Ellis's work to appreciate the question.  The question was, 'Why are you such a sick f--k?'

Some people will think a while before responding.  This may be uncomfortable for you, but assuming your question was valid and useful it is probably not uncomfortable for them.  So be prepared to wait, and then listen with all of your being to the response.

I think this also applies to the sometimes overused technique of asking 'rhetorical questions'.  As a facilitator, I'd rather ask a genuine question and listen to the answer, than pose a question without giving that opportunity.

(The podcast is available here.)