Leadership is not as much about
knowing the right answers as it is about asking
the right questions!
-Bob Tiede


July 11th, 2024 | Leadership

Note from Bob:  I just recently found this marvelous new book!  It is a Great Read! I was delighted when the author, Jonah Berger” gave me his kind permission to “Excerpt” Chapter 3 for you! With so much wisdom packed into this chapter we are excerpting from it over 5 Posts:

July 8  – “Ask the Right Questions” – Click HERE to read!

Today – July 11  – “Follow Up” – BELOW:

July 15  – “Deflect Difficulties”

July 18  –  “Avoid Making Assumptions” 

July 22  –  “Start Safe, Then Build” 


Excerpted with Permission from Chapter 3 of “Magic Words” by Jonah Berger

When it comes to having successful interpersonal inte- ractions, the age-old story is that it’s all about personality and appearance. Some people are funnier, more charismatic, or more attractive than others, and these personal qualities just make them inherently more likable.

Another common explanation is that interpersonal similarity is key. It’s often said that birds of a feather flock together, for example, and people with common interests may have more to talk about or better things to say.

But while these factors certainly play a role, they’re somewhat disheartening. Because there’s not much we can do to change them. Our height is fixed, it’s tough to change one’s personality, and while we can learn about blockchain, stoicism, or any other topic to try and fit in with a particular group of people, it’s not the easiest thing to pull off.

Does that mean that the less attractive, less charming of us are doomed to fail? Or might there be another way?

To find out what drives first impressions, researchers from Stanford and UC Santa Barbara analyzed thousands of first dates.2 They collected demographic information like age, physical characteristics like height and weight, and other features like hobbies and interests. In addition, they captured the interaction itself. Using microphones, they recorded what each person said throughout the date.

Not surprisingly, appearance played a role. Women, for example, were especially attracted to men who were taller than average. Similarity also mattered. People were more interested in going on a second date with another person who had similar interests and hobbies.

Even beyond these more fixed aspects, though, the words people used had a significant impact. Asking questions led to a better first impression. It made people feel like they clicked and made them more interested in going on a second date.3

Similar things have been found in a host of domains. In everyday getting-to-know-you conversations between strangers, for example, people who asked more questions were seen as more likable and fun to spend time with. And in doctor-patient interactions, patients were more satisfied when doctors asked them more questions about their lives and experiences.4

But when researchers looked further, they found that certain types of questions were more beneficial.

As the advice study suggests, asking questions can signal that we’re interested in someone’s viewpoint. That we care enough about them and their perspective that we want to learn more. Similarly, when going on a date or engaging in a regular everyday conversation, asking questions suggests that rather than just talking about ourselves, we’re interested in our conversation partner and what they have to say.

Consequently, how beneficial different questions are depends in part on the degree to which they signal caring and interest.

Introductory questions, like “How are you?” are an automatic part of everyday discourse. As a result, it’s hard to know whether someone is really interested or just being polite.

So-called mirror questions (ones that parrot back whatever comes in) have similar effects. When someone asks “What did you have for lunch?” we often respond with something like “A Reuben sandwich, how about you?” Compared to just answering the question (“A Reuben sandwich.”), asking a question back suggests some interest. It indicates that rather than being completely self-focused, we’re interested or aware enough to return the favor. But because volleying back the same question requires little effort, it’s less likely to have interpersonal benefits. Similar to asking an introductory question, it’s not clear whether we’re actually interested or just being courteous.

Other types of questions can even be detrimental. If someone says, “I’m taking a week off to go to the mountains,” a response like “What’s your favorite movie?” is a non sequitur. It has little relationship to what the first person said and doesn’t follow what was being discussed. Rather than indicating caring and interest, it suggests the exact opposite: Someone either isn’t listening or was so bored or uninterested that they went ahead and switched the topic. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t lead the asker to be perceived positively and can even be worse than not asking any question at all.

Instead, a better type of question to ask is one that follows up on what was just said. If someone says they’re a foodie, for example, asking them what types of food they like to eat. If someone says they’re concerned a new project isn’t working, asking them why they feel that way. And if someone says they can’t wait for the weekend, asking them what they are looking forward to.

Follow-up questions encourage conversation partners to elaborate further. To say more, provide more detail, or give more texture.

And whether talking to friends or strangers, clients or colleagues, people who ask follow-up questions are perceived more positively. Indeed, when researchers analyzed dating conversations, they found that follow-up questions were particularly helpful in generating a positive impression. People who asked more follow-up questions were more likely to be asked on a second date.

Follow-ups work because they signal responsiveness. Rather than just being polite or asking questions to change the subject, follow-up questions demonstrate that someone listened, understood, and wants to know more.

Want someone to like you? Want to show that you listened and care? Don’t just ask questions, ask the right questions.

Follow-up questions show we’re dialed in. We’re interested in the conversation, tracked what someone said, and are excited to learn more. We value that person enough to listen to what he or she was saying and ask more about it.

Click HERE to purchase “Magic Words” by Jonah Berger today

Jonah Berger


Jonah Berger is a Wharton School professor and internationally bestselling author of Magic WordsContagiousInvisible Influence, and The Catalyst.  Dr. Berger is a world-renowned expert on natural language processing, change, word of mouth, influence, consumer behavior, and why things catch on. He has published over 80 articles in top‐tier academic journals, teaches one of the world’s most popular online courses, and popular outlets like The New York Times and Harvard Business Review often cover his work. Berger has keynoted hundreds of major conferences and events like SXSW and Cannes Lions, advises various early-stage companies, and consults for organizations like Apple, Google, Nike, Amazon, GE, Moderna, and The Gates Foundation.


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