Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

No, it Doesn’t

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Crossed Arms

The current chaos surrounding the Rio Olympics, whether it’s Zika or the polluted water or over-priced and soon to be ghost venues led reporters at BBC’s “Newshour” to ask athletes already there, “Do you think the Olympic Games have been tainted by all of the bad news?”

One unnamed athlete said, “No, I don’t think so”.  But in the next breath said, “but I don’t think it’s in a good place” which they capped with the question, “Does that make sense?”

This post isn’t about Rio.  It’s about the question “Does that make sense?” and how obviously flawed it is as an answer.  As blogger Jared Fuller asked in January, “What’s worse than hearing this phrase is saying it.”  He admits that, “Asking “Does that make sense?” comes from a place of innocence – maybe even a place of compassion. You want to affirm that your prospect understands what you’re saying, so you ask the question and mean it. Unfortunately, it actually just confuses the prospect, which is the opposite of what you were going for.”

Fuller calls it a “transitional phrase” which is really just a place holder, like, “ummmmm”.  There is no real information in it because it’s strictly rhetorical; a device for passing the conversation back to the other person which, would seem to be a good thing since it facilitates more conversation.

But Fuller also calls it a dumb question because by asking the question, the asker is setting the answerer up to judge the intelligence of the question and consequently, the intelligence of the asker.  And in some cases, the asker may actually and passive-aggressively be questioning the intelligence of the answerer.  The Harvard Business Review says that besides making the person you’re talking to question whether you know what you’re talking about, it transmits the message that you don’t think the listener isn’t smart enough get it.

It’s been a long while since I’ve heard it.  I had hoped its corpse had already begun to rot.  But perhaps it is finally passing through the body of public usage.  With this interview, I hope it gets flushed.

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Written by Interviewer

August 4, 2016 at 04:51

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