In 2022 I was hosting mock behavioral interviews with Shawn Axsom and Bura Chuhadar. As I was doing marketing, inviting hiring managers + recruiters and the initiative was growing - job seekers were answering questions, feedback was provided - I started thinking how to improve the conversation flow.
- How to communicate effectively during the interview?
- How to ensure that the questions lead to gathering the right signals about the candidate?
- How to make sure that the questions are not ambiguous?
The solution: erotetics
The solution to those struggles is erotetics: the science behind asking and answering questions. It helps you improve question + answer flow and understand the context behind questions.
Let's take a look at slide 15 from a presentation provided by Mariusz Urbański from Institute of Psychology at Adam Mickiewicz University:
Consider the following:
Which three boys love which two girls?
The question may be interpreted:
1 as asking about three boys and two girls such that each of these girls is loved by exactly one of the boys;
2 as asking about three boys and two girls such that each of the boys loves the two girls;
3 as asking about three boys and some (but at least two and no more than six) girls such that each of the boys loves two of the girls;
4 sometimes the question can also be understood as asking about a complete list of boys and girls fulfilling one of the above conditions.
The effect is not due only to the presence of numerical expressions; consider: Which boys love which girls?
This example breaks down possible answers and types of signals that can be gathered via answering this question. However, there's also another issue here: the context.
It's not only the question itself, but also the context of it that's important. The context can be:
- the language itself
- the culture
In his paper David Harrah highlights the importance of the language and comparing the question/answer systems of different languages.
Students, teachers, and everyone else too should be interested not only in learning the question-and-answer system provided by English (or whatever is the given natural language) but also in learning asystem that is better than the English system - if there is any.
Picking other languages can not only understand you other people better, but also makes you more aware about the ambiguity of your own language. For example, how you operates in English versus in German.
Eric Meyer in the book The culture Map in Chapter 1 categorizes cultures by their context. USA presented as a very low context country (explicit messaging) while on the other side - places like China, Japan or Indonesia having high context culture (implicit meaning).
The level of context is important, because the same question/answer can be perceived differently. A person from high-context culture can be perceived as secretive or unable to communicate effectively. Or the other way around: a person from low-context culture can be deemed rude or unprofessional.
That's a wrap for this intro for erotetics. As for more resources, I would recommend: