Wednesday, 23 September 2020

How we ask questions

The way one phrases a question can make a large difference to the answer one receives. I don't think we think enough about this, and it was brought home to me very clearly, when reading a really great book on psychometric testing (as one does!), by Brian Cripps (2017). 
"There is an apocryphal story in market research about two priests who are discussing whether it is a sin to pray and smoke at the same time.
"The first says that he thinks it is a sin. The second thinks it is not.
"So they agree to go to their respective [bishops] to gain a higher opinion. When they meet again, the first priest says that his [bishop] regarded smoking while praying as a sin. The second said that his [bishop] was adamant that it was not a sin.

"So the second priest said to the first, ‘What did you ask your superior?’

"He replied, ‘I asked my superior if it was a sin to smoke when praying.’

"'Ah,’ said the second priest. ‘My superior said it was fine. But I asked, is it a sin to pray when smoking?'" (Cripps, 2013, p. 29)
This is a very good analogy for us to think about how questions are asked, either by ourselves in interviews, or by others when using assessment instruments. 

Whenever we are considering using a career inventory with a client, we need to first read through the questions and consider which may derail our clients, which may cause problems, or which may cause cultural misunderstandings. Considering this as a first step is particularly important in New Zealand, as few tests have been normalised for our nation. 

First working through the instrument will help us to highlight those cultural differences to help us more accurately debrief our clients, post-test... and we can be watchful for how questions have been asked, which may have affected how our clients have answered.

That should lead to better career decision-making. 


  • Reference: Cripps, B. (Ed.) (2017). Psychometric Testing: Critical perspectives. Wiley Blackwell. 

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