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How You Say It Does Matter

When we have a sticky issue for which the solution needs buy-in, I’m frequently the voice in the room making sure we’re all in agreement on how we’re going to request the buy-in.  While some people get frustrated with this, I’ve learned that how you pose a question can have an impact on the answer you get—admittedly more so with some stakeholders than with others.

In Decision Frames: How Cognitive Biases Affect UX Practitioners, Kathryn Whitenton quantifies the impact of asking the same question in different ways. Whitenten notes “Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky explored the effect of decision frames and found that the exact same information can lead to opposite conclusions, depending on the frame used to present the decision.”

As product managers and business analysts, it’s frequently our job to drive to decisions, so being aware of this is pretty powerful stuff– from the point of view of utilizing it to obtain buy-in and being aware of it so that you don’t make bad decisions. On the latter point,  Whitenton explores three ways to counteract the bias you can get from how you frame your questions. I particularly liked her third approach of experimenting with different frames; she advised “Try restating your question in reverse terms, or from a different point of view. Taking a few seconds to simply flip a data point from a success rate to a failure rate, or to consider not just a percentage of failure but the actual number of people affected, is a quick way to check whether your opinion is being unduly influenced by framing.”

Just a reminder—in addition to saying what you mean, frequently, how you say it does matter.

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