How to manage unruly question time

A while ago I posted about various ways to manage hostile Q&A sessions.

There was one powerful technique that I missed out.

Ask each questioner to state their name before they ask their question or make a comment. They’re likely to behave better.

This technique was inspired by research on the way people behave when there are mirrors around. I haven’t been able to find a link to the original research but here’s a quote from a New York Times article:

Subjects tested in a room with a mirror have been found to work harder, to be more helpful and to be less inclined to cheat, compared with control groups performing the same exercises in nonmirrored settings.

Reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, C. Neil Macrae, Galen V. Bodenhausen and Alan B. Milne found that people in a room with a mirror were comparatively less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes about, for example, sex, race or religion.

“When people are made to be self-aware, they are likelier to stop and think about what they are doing,” Dr. Bodenhausen said. “A byproduct of that awareness may be a shift away from acting on autopilot toward more desirable ways of behaving.”

In Yes: 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion Robert Cialdini and his colleagues report on research which shows that asking people their name can have the same effect.

Anonymity allows people to behave in ways that are socially disapproved of – and get away with it. If you ask people to state their name before they ask a question or make a comment during a public consultation meeting they are no longer anonymous. They become personally accountable for the way they behave in their interaction with you. It makes sense then, that they are likely to behave better.

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