A far better question than, “Does that make sense?”
I was attending a course about how to be a better facilitator when the instructor said something powerful.
“If you are explaining something to your attendees, focus on how well they are understanding, not how well you are teaching. Never make it about you. It is not your attendees’ job to validate how good a teacher you believe yourself to be.”
This really hit home with me, because one of the top phrases I advise financial professionals NOT to use is, “Does that make sense?”
It’s hard to say, “No”
Professionals who use this phrase tell me, “I’m checking to see if my client/customer understood what I just said.”
Ok. But how many people raise their hands and say “I’m a complete idiot. That makes no sense to me.”? Even asking that question implies that it should make sense. When you say, “Does that make sense?” the person to whom you are explaining something knows you are hoping for a, “Yes, you did a good job of explaining that.”
Don’t make it about whether your explanation made sense. Make it about the other person’s takeaway.
And that’s the final problem with, “Does that make sense?” It is a closed-ended question, meaning it will generate a yes or no answer.
If you really want to check for understanding, and know what the other person’s takeaway was, ask an open ended question instead.
A better alternative
So what’s another question to use instead? “What are your thoughts” or “What are your thoughts about that.”
Here’s an example. I regularly explain the 5 step process I use to keep from getting triggered in difficult conversations and to get both parties focused on a shared goal. After I explained each step, I used to stop and ask, “Does that make sense?” I always got a head nod or a “yes.” Always.
But after sitting in that training class for facilitators, I tried a different approach. After explaining each step I asked, “What are your thoughts about that?” The quality of the answers was amazing. I got a much better sense of whether or not people were truly understanding and relating to my material. I got surprising questions. And people shared concerns about their ability to use the techniques which I could address.
“What are your thoughts?” was incredibly effective, because what I really wanted to know was NOT whether it made sense (and to pat myself on the back for doing a great job of explanation). I wanted to know what the other person took away from my explanation.
After you’ve been teaching or talking for a while, stop and ask, “What are your thoughts?” It takes the focus off of you and puts it on the other person, where it really belongs.
Don’t put people on the spot by asking, “Does that make sense?” Give them permission to share what they are really thinking about the material you just presented by asking a better question instead.