The Power of Asking Questions

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May 142008

Who is living your life?

Are you making decisions based on media reports? On emotional triggers embedded into all the communications that bombard you 24/7?  Are you swayed by all the pretty graphics and the ominous numbers/statistics that seem to be so authoritative?

We’re in a highly competitive commercialized society where we can’t escape persuasion and sales tactics. It seems that no matter where we turn someone is selling us something – whether it be what food we should eat, which politician we vote for, what we do with our lives. No matter what we do, someone is right there telling us what we should or should not do, what’s good for us and what we’re good for.

Way too many people repeat, like so many parrots, whatever the latest newspaper, or radio host said today or yesterday as if quoting from the bible, without understanding. And, I’m watching them make significant changes in their lives based on what someone else’s criteria.

But I’m also seeing a very healthy trend toward people asking some of the harder questions and delaying their decisions just long enough to get past the emotional claptrap. Recyclers are opting to trade items rather then discard and they’re finding ways to extend the useful life of items that once were considered past their built-in obsolescence. More people are willing to risk being just a little bit different. It’s not as important to dress in gray flannel as it once was in order to be acceptable. And, yes, people are learning to do without. Latest and greatest isn’t necessarily a great calling card for marketers any more.

Even while torn by emotional messages, like fear, people are learning to ask hard questions. It’s true that human nature is such that we do re-act when someone plays on our emotions – our fears, our desires to impress others or be a better parent. And, it is true that we buy what we want before we buy what we need. The marketers have that right. But the formulas don’t seem to be working quite as well as they once did.

It’s true, we bought into the belief that "everyone is a salesperson". And, as salespeople (regardless of what we’re selling), we’ve learned that the best way to sell anything is to play on emotions first, then present statistics with lots of graphics and pretty pictures and testimonials. That may work in a purely commercial setting. But, now there are just too many mixed messages, conflicting sets of statistics and testimonials attributed by people we have no reason to believe.  It’s possible that the golden goose is on it’s last legs.

What’s happening? People are beginning to re-discover how to think critically based on their own best interests.  More important, they’re going back to a very old philosophy my grandfather taught me:

Before making any decision, he’d say, ask some very simple questions:

Why is this important?
Why now?
Why is this person telling me this? What is his/her vested interest in my decision?
So what? Why should I care?

What do these simple questions tell us? Invariably, they uncover a telling underlying question: Where’s the money?  They allow us to understand the full story (beyond the sound bytes and pretty stories); they give us time to step beyond knee-jerk emotional reactions; they clarify the vested interest the individual(s) behind the information we’re being given; and, they clarify the inherent priority of that information in our own lives.

With this background information in hand, we can make a valid – unemotional – decisions based on our own self interests. 

Here’s to living your own life!

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