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The covert question (continued): being an eternal learner despite the costs

Hi everyone,

This is the original post.

I was meditating today when an idea popped into my head. Ever since Lucio wrote this post, I've been thinking about looking at situations in terms of the position of the other side. Not so much Chris Voss's empathy concept, but Daniel Pink's self-compassion concept.

Self-compassion as Pink describes it is the idea that we often treat ourselves a bit harsher than we treat others:

Pink: Treat yourself the way that you would treat a friend. Pink notes, "There's another principle in [the] science of behavior called self-compassion. We tend to be relatively compassionate with other people. But, we're less compassionate with ourselves." So, show yourself the same compassion you would show a friend in need.

So, I've been thinking a lot. More than simply how others feel in a given situation, but also how they are really being treated due to the circumstances and their choices. Not unlike how a date might be treating themself poorly in terms of swindling themself without realizing it. All because instead of thinking about what they can learn from a  high-quality guy, they're thinking about getting away with a meal.

And, that led me to this idea. What about the position of the person on the receiving end of the covert question?

That high-quality person, if they know power dynamics, might not want to correct you because they understand that "correcting" is a leader-like move in conversation that builds up the authority of the one doing the correcting while diminishing the authority of the corrected (referencing from the "How Dominance Sounds" lesson in PU here).

So, if you frame your questions as statements or case studies, you could be putting yourself in a position where the high-quality individual (who knows better than you do) decides not to correct you in an effort to keep rapport. Especially since, if you haven't developed a learner's mindset to the point where you must hide your questions behind a unique veil, you may not take too kindly to being corrected. And, especially not in a public setting.

So, just by keeping your questions covert, you're actually swindling yourself out of possible learning opportunities. And, that brings me to my thought of the opposite extreme:

The Herb Cohen Negotiation Style

Herb Cohen embraces the idea of being submissive and deferential in order to strategically give the other side the upper hand in any negotiation. That way, the other side believes they know more than Cohen and believes they are getting the best deal since they're "at such an experience advantage". All the while, Cohen pretends he's not one of the top negotiators in the world.

Here's a snippet from Cohen himself on negotiating for a raise:

The Low-Key Pose of Calculated Incompetence Negotiation Style: Make sure you don’t appear to be the smartest person in the room. Never let people know how bright you are or what you’ve accomplished; they should ultimately be able to figure this out after the negotiation is over and after you’ve told them what a great deal they got. Make your boss feel smart. By playing dumb and inarticulate in the negotiation, you get the other side more invested and involved in the process. Train yourself to say:

You: “I don’t know. I don’t understand. Can you explain that to me again?”

Then, you want to ask your boss for help.

You: “Look, you’ve been doing this for years. Could you like help me?”

Get them talking, get them doing, get them involved in the process.

So, you could actually be strategically submissive in order to get information out of someone by embracing each question from a (feigned) position of "I don't know anything at all".

And, while you sacrifice some status in the short-run, you walk away with a hell of a lot more power later in the form of up-to-date, accurate information.

Perhaps the "covert question" does deserve its own place in the TPM dictionary of power definitions.

I forgot to link to this video of "correcting" that sparked some thought on my side and might inspire thought on yours:

Hey Ali,

I'm not sure if I'd consider that Cohen technique a covert question, since he is asking very direct questions there.

That's more like a technique we might call "faking ignorance" or "playing it dumb" to use an already existing expression.

It's true though that hiding questions might not provide you with an answer, and thus you'd lose an opportunity for growth.
That can happen both because the other person is annoyed when he spots the technique, and because he might try to keep rapport, as you say -both approaches aren't even mutually exclusive: one might be annoyed by the maneuver, but overall still like the person, and he simply decides to move on without addressing either the question, or the annoying technique-.

And it's also a great point that covert questions do deserve being in the dictionary as a very real power dynamics techniques, as well as a social scalping tool (credit erasing).

I've added it now, thank you for bringing it back to my (our) attention!

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Agreed. I didn't share Cohen's technique as an example of the covert question; I shared it as an illustration of a willingness to reduce one's status in an effort to operate as more of a learner (and, even further, to avoid swindling yourself out of possible learning opportunities).

And, glad you think it deserves to be in the TPM dictionary!

Hehe, that dictionary is getting so long it could probably be its own ebook by now :D.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Got it, OK.

Keep in mind that sometimes, during busy time, I speed-read things, so if I might miss something here and there -all my fault-.

It's a good example of "strategically lowering one's power" for Matthew's thread then.

Hehe, that dictionary is getting so long it could probably be its own ebook by now :D.


A great idea 😀

It's still a work in progress and needs much work with organizing the headlines / formatting, but it could be a book idea one day.

Not so much for selling as it will always be free there, plus for real learning it's best to follow the links, but as a "gift idea" or something to get someone started in leraning power dynamics, it's a cool idea.

Ali Scarlett has reacted to this post.
Ali Scarlett
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?