Just Ask

We are told to ask, seek, and knock when it comes to God. The same is often (not always) true of people.

When you want to know something about people, ask them.

The amount of assumption behind our thoughts and decisions regarding others is unnecessary; in business about customers or colleagues, in politics about enemies or voters or immigrants or whoever, in relationships about everyone.

“Maybe they’ll like this feature”, “They only care about this”, “They have bad intentions”. These conjectures are often all that big decisions and big emotions are based on.

It is much easier if you just ask people directly. Why did you do this? What do you care about? What do you think of this? What motivates you?

It’s amazing how often people will tell you the truth.

Any good economist knows this isn’t foolproof, as there’s a big difference between stated preferences and revealed preferences. Everyone says they love mom and pop stores even if more expensive (stated preference) but when Wal-Mart opens they shop there instead (revealed preference).

It’s good to observe actions – the fruit – and not just words, but asking people is incredibly handy when it comes to understanding motives. Instead of assuming the shopper above is just a liar or frugal, you can ask why their actions didn’t mirror their previous words. Maybe you’d discover that, while they like mom and pop shops in general, the particular one in town has a grumpy owner and they realized after one trip that they prefer the anonymity of a bigger store. That’s very different than just being a liar or frugal.

Curiosity about motives is hard to come by. When something happens, your enemies will immediately assume a motive that helps their case and hurts yours. As a reaction, you’ll assume an opposite motive. Meanwhile, nobody is taking a second to simply ask the actor about their motives.

Try it out. And with genuine curiosity and openness, not angling for a predetermined answer.