Question Calibration Case Study

There’s an NLP Practitioner/copywriter who periodically posts different written patterns.

Typically, I feel like he’s overstating the case or violates the intent of hypnotic writing which is to be elegant in your persuasion. He doesn’t allow comments or I would have posted there. His loss, your gain.

He posted on Asking Obvious Questions to Plant Doubts today.

The part I want to draw your attention to is the two questions he uses and the conclusions he draws from the distinctions.

He says to leave out modal operators (could, would, should) and conditionals (if) in favor of declarative statements using the two examples:

  • What would you do if the economy collapses?
  • What will you do when the economy collapses?

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may recall that it’s usually best to avoid asking questions at all. In person (as NLP is taught) it’s encouraged as it controls attention. In writing, you’re giving an opportunity to lose focus or interest.

The issue that isn’t addressed in saying the first question is more powerful than the second is the effect on the reader.

As a reader my personal responses to the respective sentences are:

  • Hmm. I wonder what it would take for the economy to collapse.
  • Yeah right. He’s just scare mongering to get me to part with my cash.

The second probably isn’t a response you want your reader to have. People aren’t simply passively agreeing with everything you say.

It’s much more elegant to mind read instead. For example:

I’m wondering about your plan for the looming economic collapse.

He goes on to give examples that seem like they’re intentionally written to provoke a negative response. For example:

“Would you hire a window washer to do your taxes? Then why would you hire an ad agency copywriter to write your website copy?”

The both questions put the reader in a “no” state. That may not be the best approach if you’re trying to get someone to eventually agree with you.

If I’m reading that as someone who might hire a copywriter, I’d think this person has very little connection to logical reality and pass. Or maybe that he’s insulting my intelligence. I’m likely to start arguing with him in my mind.

For more effective writing, calibrate what you want to convey. Make it elegant so that you avoid creating unnecessary resistance. Remember that people just want to feel good.

For more on modal operators, see Steve Andreas’ article on it:

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