I am working on a member survey for one of my favorite nonprofits and it has occurred to me that many times, whether in our jobs or our lives, we are asking the wrong question.
Why do we do that?
Is it fear of the answer, or is it a failure to think it through and determine what information we are truly seeking?
It may be the first in some situations, but I think it is the latter most of the time.
When parenting, why do we ask our children, “How was school?” when we really want to know if they think they did okay on that big test or made up with their best friend? Intellectually, we know we aren’t asking the right question, and are more likely to get a “Fine,” with a closed door behind it than anything else, but we can’t seem to stop ourselves. Maybe we think we are easing into a conversation, or extending the communication when we start with a vague question, but it doesn’t often work out that way. You can get some useful and funny suggestions for alternate questions to that classic at Simple Simon and Company and in a very helpful blog post at PopSugar.
Writing this post, I was tempted to give too many resources and too many options…Unfortunately, this is typical.
Creating surveys, I have learned about “question creep.” It is what causes a five question satisfaction survey to balloon out to forty questions because everyone has one they think is important. It is so tempting to get more information while you have the respondent captive, but all of that data is absolutely useless unless you can take action on it.
Bottom line; in satisfaction surveys, don’t ask a question and then present choices that you know are not achievable. Don’t ask questions that don’t directly serve the purpose of the survey. Don’t put “Other” in there as a choice unless you are prepared to read through many outlier suggestions. It will net you nothing except resentment from the taker that you asked but then did nothing. You know what I am talking about. It happens all the time.
Take a moment and think about what information you really want from your child when you ask a question. If there will be choices involved in their answer that you have control over, think ahead about what they might be and be prepared to offer them only if they are realistically achievable. If there are consequences that depend on the answer they give, the same logic applies. Seriously, is “grounded for life” something you are prepared to enforce?
Thinking about what information you want and what you are prepared to offer is not something you want to do in a vacuum. If you have a parenting partner, he or she needs to be part of the conversation and you will be most effective when you are on the same page. Try to avoid “question creep,” and if it is one of those big, important conversations, (think drinking, drugs, law-breaking behavior, sex, etc.) realize that if you don’t stay on point, it will be easy for your child to distract you.
You lose credibility and focus that way.
This is hard work, and it is even harder if your natural tendency is to think (and parent) on impulse, or as you go, but it has great value.
Value; both in the communication you have with your partner before the “survey” and the communication you both have with your child.