One of my favorite ways to assess how someone really feels about an issue is to ask them to give their answer along a spectrum. It’s easy to say that you are for or against something, but that implies a false dichotomy; in reality, there are many shades to an answer and discerning those subtleties provides a much deeper understanding.

For example, in interviews, no one is going to say that they don’t like technology. So I ask: “On the technology spectrum, how comfortable are you with using it: Geek to using it as a practical tool.” Or I may ask: “On the social media spectrum, how engaged are you?” I have found that I receive much more revealing answers and have a truer sense of the person’s actual skills or preferences.

I also use the spectrum scale in other settings. In a recent session about strategic planning with a board, I asked members to rate where they fell on the planning spectrum on such issues as where goals should fall between safe and audacious, whether ideas should fall toward those which fit in the current budget vs. costs should be ignored, whether they weighed in closer to stewardship or innovation, and how they would rate their desire for building on strengths vs. addressing weaknesses. Of course, my scale did not have an exact mid-point, forcing members to stake a preference toward one side or another — which stimulated some great discussions as well as a more clear understanding of how similar (or different) opinions were.

When you frame your questions to receive answers around a spectrum, you will learn about nuances that a simple “yes” or “no” will never reveal. Make it your goal to see the range of grays on your palette before you paint yourself into a black or white corner.

beth triplett

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