Years ago I learned the value of asking “why?” during an interview or conversation with someone from whom I wanted information for an article or ad. The more involved in the subject we dove, the more times I had to think of different ways to say “why?”. “Tell me more,” I’d say or “could you explain that?” — any phrase that would allow me to dive deeper into the subject matter.
Changing things up just a tad, I’d often interject “why not?” when my interviewee would proclaim as fact that something could not be made, redesigned, sold, given away, etc.
Interestingly, it was during some of these times when I’d get an adverse reaction like, “whaddya mean, why not?” It was as if I’d challenged him on his very credentials of smartness.
But none of those times met with as much of a surprise (disdain, maybe) as when I’d ask, as professionally respectful as I could, “so what?” when my subject expert just proclaimed that his or her product or service is “#1” at doing such and such or is the “leader in this and that.”
Usually, I follow up my “so what?” with something like “how is that significant?” or “how will your customer benefit?” That kinda takes some of the sting out of the “so what?” even when you ask it nicely.
Remember, we are the outsider looking into their world, which they hold very dear. In some respects, they view us as challenging them even though our objective is to create a meaningful and interesting story for our readers, and theirs.
Emotions aside, don’t ever be afraid to ask as many “why not’s” and “so what’s” as it takes to get to the bottom of the real, meaningful story. I find it easier to convey interest when either of those phrases are used in conjunction with a statement just uttered by the expert.
It helps both you and your interviewee dive deeper together in discussing information that, quite possibly, hadn’t been thought of before or at least from the perspective you’re providing.
You’re building trust during this dialogue. Both of you are professionals and should respect one another.
Just keep that in mind when you ask your next “so what?”