What is Instinctive Elaboration

This morning I was at my desk working on a “heads down” project.  You know the kind…where you are focused on nothing but the project at hand.  As I was working through a spreadsheet, a colleague of mine stepped in and asked me this question… “Hey Jeff, have you seen the new Justice League movie yet?”

I looked up from my computer and said “Nope, not yet” and then immediately looked back at my computer.  Unfortunately, that was all the time it took.  I found myself staring at the screen for a few seconds, trying to remember what I was working on.  I thought… “Dang it man, why did you have to ask me a question right then.”  

I know something like this has happened to you and there is a scientific reason why.  It’s a biological response that all humans have that can be used to your advantage if you understand it.

Let me explain.  What caused me to lose track of what I was doing is called Instinctive Elaboration and it’s an instinctual and autonomic response that neither you nor I can consciously control.  It’s as subconscious as breathing and blinking.  Instinctive elaboration is a phenomenon of literally hijacking someone’s brain with a question…any question, either good or bad.  

Here is how it works.  When you pose a question to someone, their brain, for a brief moment, will focus its resources solely on answering your question.  Now, it’s important to know that the person can either: answer you, ignore you, agree with you, roll their eyes, etc…because their response is consciously up to them based on how they feel about the timing and the importance/quality of the question.  

This is a powerful idea to understand when considering conversations with customers or clients in your professional life.  Think about how often you ask questions during either a conversation or an interaction with someone.  Remember, every inquiry causes instinctive elaboration to happen, and they can not control the hijacking; however, their response is absolutely under their control.  So, if you are not getting the response you desire, it has nothing to do with them biologically ignoring you, it has to do with the timing and quality of the question(s) you asked.  So once you’ve hijacked their brain for that split second, you have to deal with their reaction to your question whether that be good or bad.

So, when you consider the questions you are asking, remember that those inquiries can make or break a conversation (and if you don’t ask questions, it’s a presentation, not a conversation.)  Instinctive Elaboration is your friend when you take the time to prepare good transitional and interrogative questions in advance because their brain is biologically set to consider what you are asking.  Nothing shows you care more about someone than when you ask a question that shows you understand:

  • them
  • their business
  • their goals and/or challenges

     However; if you did not put the time into crafting questions in a way that either directs the conversation where you want it to go or shows you cared enough to research what you needed to, you could be setting yourself up to fail.  You will be judged on your questions so be ready to have them think poorly of you if you come in unprepared.  Instinctive elaboration is an amazing response to understand, but even it can’t save you from stupid questions.

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