Want to Know What Someone Really Thinks? Reply

By Gretchen Rubin, PsychCentral

The other weekend, I was trying to remember something I’d read in Tyler Cowen’s book, Discover Your Inner Economist: Using Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist. And I looked it up — so interesting!

Sometimes when we ask a question, we know that people might be reluctant to give a true opinion. Maybe they’re worried about angering someone else, or appearing unsophisticated, or admitting what they actually think or do. Tyler Cowen made an observation that I think is absolutely fascinating, and one that provides one clever solution to this non-disclosure problem. Click through to read what it is.

He writes:

“To get a person’s real opinion, ask what she thinks everyone else believes… If people truly hold a particular belief, they are more likely to think that others agree or have had similar experiences.

For instance, if a man has had more than thirty sexual partners, he will more likely think that such behavior is common. After all, his life is one ‘data point,’ and that data point presumably weighs heavily in his mind. Furthermore the man with more than thirty partners probably knows a higher percentage of other people with thirty partners or more. This will further encourage him to make a high estimate of how many partners other people have had…

[People] tend to assume that other people have had life histories at least somewhat similar to their own. When we talk about other people, we are often talking about ourselves, whether we know it ourselves.”

So imagine that you’re considering sending your children to a particular school. Asking your friend, “What complaints do parents have about the school?” instead of asking, “How do you like the school?” might elicit a better answer.

Or maybe you’re considering going to a particular doctor. A person might not want personally to express criticism, but if you said, “How do most patients feel about that doctor’s office?” you might hear more.

This sounds surprising, but imagine how you would answer questions such as, “Do you think most people get along well with their in-laws?” “Do you think most people cheat on their taxes?” “Do you think most people love music?” “Do you think most people go to sleep after midnight?” Isn’t your inclination to respond with an answer that’s true for you? And yet the answer doesn’t feel like self-disclosure!

If this kind of thing interests you, you might also enjoy reading about why a mirror can make you behave better, and five more tips for boosting self-control.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s