Directions Example: Finding the Restaurant
A group of men approached me during a walk in the neighborhood last weekend and asked for directions to College Place. They were frustrated. They had asked at least a half a dozen people for directions with no success. I’ve lived here a long time and knew there was no street of that name.
But really, the men were on their way to a location not the street itself. I asked them where they were really trying to go. They were looking for a bar called the Cedar Tavern. The Cedar Tavern is well known and is on University Place.
Colleges, universities, sometimes a small distinction, but for this time it made a large difference!
Questions seem to demand direct answers. The first six people responded to the men’s questions at face value and to the best of their knowledge. However, it is likely that some of them did know the location of the Cedar, and would have been happy to provide it, but they did not see the full intent of the question.
This example brings up a useful technique to increase information in both home and business situations called “Consequential Listening”. It can be stated in one easily remembered sentence:
You can better understand what people are telling you when you also think about the consequences of what they are saying.
This response goes one step beyond responding to a direct question. Just the increased awareness of the listener increases the likelihood of getting a better result or a smarter decision.
Asking Better Questions
When it’s time to get information by asking questions, thinking about “Consequential Listening” from the questioner’s perspective can help you to formulate questions so that the answers have a better chance of providing high quality information.
In many cases, the opening question is often hit or miss. However, by considering the first answer, together with your own view of the desired outcome, follow-up questions can be guided to be more specific.
In the Cedar Tavern example above, the men, by considering the negative answers together with their goal, could have realized that the bar was more well known than the street and changed the question on their own.
One other point: Listening for Consequences differs from the technique known as active listing. Active listening focuses attention on the content speaker, with interactions to ensure understanding. Here, the listening exercise is to go beyond understanding and make the effort to synthesize or extrapolate the information into a more useful form.