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: