Ask Innocent Questions To Convince Anyone?

There are dynamite topics in any relationship. But what if I tell you, it’s not the topics but the inability to communicate them effectively?

In my life, I’ve noticed a problem that repeats over and over again: being too straight. For a long time, I thought it was “their” problem. I thought they were sensitive or weak. Why would I communicate less straightforwardly? “That’s a waste of time,” I used to say.

I have relationships where being too straight comes off as putting down or a call to get their guards up. Being straight goes from “effective and fast” to “ineffective and tiring.” My nature of being as straightforward as possible when I’m communicating lies in my sense of urgency to get things done. But human communication is filled with an endless proud self-dialogue. Hence, the rules change. 

When I’m programming computers, I want to be as descriptive and efficient as possible. When I’m programming people, I want to ask thoughtful questions that make people come around whatever point I’m making. 

It’s like convincing people without them realizing it. This is easier because people never want to be proved wrong or corrected. Therefore, this becomes a short-term solution to the messiness of human communication. Perhaps, the long-term solution will be a human-computer symbiosis, where being direct and straight might be the best way we communicate [1]. 

How do we ask camouflaged, convincing questions?

I learned this technique from Benjamin Franklin. He believed stating opinions as facts was a barrier to persuasion. This method is known as the Socratic method, which consists of asking seemingly innocent questions that would draw people to one’s point. 

In Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson writes:

By asking what seemed to be innocent questions, Franklin would draw people into making concessions that would gradually prove whatever point he was trying to assert. “I found this method the safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore, I took a delight in it.” 

Although he later abandoned the more annoying aspects of a Socratic approach, he continued to favor gentle indirection rather than confrontation in making his arguments [2].

This approach largely made Ben Franklin who he was. It allowed him to start as an apprentice for this brother’s printer shop at 12 to become a printer, a scientist, a politician, and finally one of the Founders Fathers of the United States.

Frame it well. Live well.

In today’s society, this is diagnosed as a lack of emotional intelligence (EQ), but I strongly believe this is one of the greatest lies of our time. We tell people to have “emotional intelligence” as a way to be fake with themselves and others.  

Instead of being “emotionally intelligent,” we should attack the root causes head-on and understand who we’re programming. Any action, speaking, writing or any other form of communication forces your will on others. Perhaps, this is a bug in our evolution, but it’s part of us. 

The question isn’t whether to enforce our will but forcing our will unnoticed. If I were to say this in EQ terms, I would say, “Have the emotional intelligence to listen and communicate with others, but don’t be too straight with what you want. Tell them how good they look or how smart they are. Then, tell them what you want.”

This topic is such a weird one. But it makes our life so much harder if ignored. In my case, I want to do my work in the most original way and help as many people as possible. I can’t allow human bugs to hinder me from doing what I want to do. For now, I learn from Ben Franklin. For later, we become the next generation of humans. 




[1] The beauty of humans is often not being too straight or direct. When we read a poem or see art, we want to dive into this world and understand how less tells us more by one word and one brushstroke at a time.

[2] Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. Simon & Schuster. 2003

If you’re into interesting ideas (like the one you just read), join my Weekly Memos., and I’ll send you new essays right when they come out.

Tags: thoughts