3 simple ways to get people to tell you exactly what you want

Apply the 3-S rule: simplify, specify, standardize. I have a tendency to explain or ask things in a very complicated way. The result: I confuse people. If I prepare my questions with the 3-S rule I can avoid confusion and get 5 times better answers in half the time.

In specific circumstances it pays off to become like a robot asking questions, i.e. asking exactly the same over and over again when you need input from many different people on the same topic. Let’s say you interview people for a job, to get data for your thesis, or need the input from 15 people in 4 different departments about their requirements for the new website you are creating….Without applying the 3-S rule you end up in a mess…people don’t answer the question you asked because they understood it in the wrong way, you waste time asking people 2x etc.

Apply the 3-S rule instead. Here is how:

  • Simplify

My mentor taught me this secret acid test to make sure anyone can understand my questions: if a 5 year old or your grandparents understand it, then anyone will understand it. The benefit? You don’t confuse people or waste time by explaining things 5x.

  • Specify

What exactly do (or don’t) you expect from people? If necessary spell it out in a document for them “here is what I want you to do, how to do it and how a good result looks like…”. The benefit? Increase the quality of answers and get more “right first time” answers.

  • Standardize

Make it easy for people to answer your questions, especially if you contact them by email. Use a voting button or spreadsheet they can fill in. It is important to provide an example of how to fill in your questionnaire or spreadsheet. Include instructions with screenshots and pictures. The benefit? Never do the same thing 2x, less work to analyze answers because they are already comparable.

The 3-S rule: simplify, specify, standardize. This is what I learned during day 3 of my experiment in which I want to explore ways to improve my skill to ask questions. Yesterday I found the secret ingredient to asking questions. Looking forward to learning something new tomorrow….

My question statistics (compare to the number of questions asked per day by a child = 300). Day 1 = 105, day 2 = 85, day 3 = 110.


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