A “Stupid” Way To Get People To Say Amazing Things

It goes against everything you’ve heard about asking questions

Michael Easter

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

My career as a journalist who writes about complicated topics like health, psychology, physiology, anthropology, etc. means that I’m constantly talking to very smart people. The kind of people with all sorts of letters behind their name, whose studies appear on the cover of Nature and Science, and who talk in long and data-filled streams of consciousness. People who make me feel dumb.

So I often get self-conscious when I interview these people. I’m the type of person who once went to the emergency room after inflating his hand into a balloon when he tried to clean a puncture wound with compressed air. True story.

In interviews I’ve always been concerned about asking the right questions the right way. Taking time to laboriously phrase each question in such a way that suggests to the interviewee, “hey, I’m a smart guy who’s done his homework!” This, I think, shows my sources that I respect their work and will not butcher their science. And to a certain extent it does.

But in promoting my new book, The Comfort Crisis, I learned a new technique that was totally at odds with what I learned in journalism school. It seemed almost lazy at first. But it totally worked and drew better answers from me than I’ve given yet (and I’ve given maybe 50 to 60 interviews about the book).

I recently appeared on NPR’s RadioWest, hosted by Doug Fabrizio. Having grown up in the Rocky Mountain West, RadioWest has always been a favorite. It’s an hour-long show that covers topics ranging from issues relevant to the West, to culture, to science, to history. Fabrizio has interviewed subjects like the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

And so it was that I expected Fabrizio’s line of questioning to be like my own — smart guy who’s done his homework! — but better. Spoiler alert: It was better. But the questioning? Sometimes it wasn’t questioning.

Here’s what Fabrizio frequently did: He’d repeat a statement I made or talk briefly about something I wrote in the book. Then instead of asking a question, he’d quickly say, “… so tell me more about that.” And then I’d find myself going into a deeper answer that was richer in…

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Michael Easter

Author of The Comfort Crisis // Professor // Writing about physical + mental health, psychology, and living better 1x week // eastermichael.com