The Question Matrix


[Computer problems continue, thus limiting my access and throwing off my plans for the week. Thanks for bearing with me. Enjoy this most illuminating column from April of '05. Feel free to use it on your friends, lovers and cats. -H]




The Hyperion Chronicles
“Take that, Space Coyote!”




#347 The Question Matrix




Every few weeks I get one of those emails that has 47 questions about your life, questions like “What time did you get up today?” “What’s your favorite: Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?” “What’s the last book you read?” and “Who is the most likely person to send this back to you? The least?”

Other than the frequency for which these catch-all queries show up in my in-box, I have no real complaints. These surveys are generally harmless, and occasionally give you small window into the world of a friend or family member.

However, almost every time I receive this email I think to myself that I could come up with much better questions. Then, a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I already had.

Years ago I came up with what I rather pretentiously called “The Question Matrix.” It consisted of 10 questions which I maintained revealed the deepest darkest secrets of a person, depending on how and what they answered. I have since scaled back my claims on these questions’ predictive power, but I still believe they are much better than “Do you like Hugs or Kisses?”

The way it is supposed to work is to ask these questions in person. The only rules are that the person queried has to answer immediately and give the first answer she thinks of. Also, two people cannot answer at the same time; listening to other responses spoils spontaneity. While a first response doesn’t mean everything, in a situation like this it means getting their most honest thoughts.

I asked my original 10 questions to at least 100 people, and recorded the responses. This is why live is so much better, because sometimes it’s the hesitations and body language that tell you what you need to know. I also have added a few questions as they have come to me over the years, and thrown out some of the others. Right now the list stands at 14.

I will tell you what this is really good for: giving you insight into a date you don’t know much about. I can’t promise you will weed out all the hall-monitors and mouth-breathers, but you should have a pretty good indication if this is a person you want to spend more time with.

(Special note just to guys: This probably won’t come as a big shock, but women love to talk about themselves, and if you play this right, they will be very flattered. Feel free to take credit and claim you made it up yourself if that’s what it takes, but if I run into the same girl, I’m exposing you for the frauds you are.)

Again: I am not selling absolutes here. This isn’t a clinical diagnosis, but if you pay attention, you will learn something about people, and often more than they wanted you to. Remember to tell the people you want their first response, and you understand they might have different answers if given more time to think. Tell them you won’t hold them to it. (Except secretly you will. Hee hee.)

If you want, answer the questions yourself and send them to me. Any one who answers will be rewarded with my answers. After the questions, I list them again, this time with my notes on what they might mean for when you spring this on someone else.


1. (A) What is your full name? And 1(B) what do you want to be called?

2. In one word, answer the following: “Who is in charge of a marriage?”

3. What is the greatest virtue?

4. If you had to write a book, what would it be about?

5. What is your favorite movie and book and why?

6. If you are walking by, and you see a homeless man on the street, do you stop to help him? (Be honest) If you knew it was Jesus, would that change your answer?

7. Would you rather be executed for a crime you were guilty of or not guilty of?

8. If they were going to make the movie of your life, what would the title be and who would play you?

9. If you were a superhero, A) What would your super-hero name be; B) what would your super-hero power be; C) what would you super-hero costume be?

10. Finish the following sentence: the fastest way to a man’s heart is _______.

11. If you could cure cancer but you had to let someone in your family die, would you do it? What if you had to die?

12. What do you wish people knew about you that they don’t?

13. What are you terrified people will find out about you?

14. If you could change the world (the entire world) in one fundamental way, what would you do?





1. (A) What is your full name? And 1(B) what do you want to be called?

It is so important to make people feel comfortable, by calling them what they want to be called. There isn’t much trickery here, but pay attention to how reticent they are to reveal their middle names. Often people abhor their middle names, and this usually means they are hiding something else, probably about growing up.


2. In one word, answer the following: “Who controls of a marriage?”

If someone is playing by the rules you will hear answers like “Men,” “Woman,” “Both,” “God,” and often from women, “Me.” This answer alone doesn’t tell you much, but putting it together with the others you start to see things. Plus, this question often puts people a little bit on the defensive, which is good for some of the following questions. Make sure you use the word “control.” That’s the trigger.


3. What is the greatest virtue?

This used to be “Who is the greatest living author?” but I got too much resistance and defensiveness to it, mostly by people who were ashamed to not read or for what they read. (Danielle Steele fans; I’m looking in your direction.) This is your first real trick question for the following reason. Whatever they say, I guarantee you it is something they themselves have a lot of trouble with. Don’t let on that you know.


4. If you had to write a book, what would it be about?

My question is “If I were going to write a column for you, what would you have me write it on?” Obviously this one applies pretty much to me unless you are going to start a column yourself, which I don’t recommend, because nobody writes you back. Expect them to take a few seconds to think about this one, and if they were defensive on #3, they will hate this one.


5. What is your favorite movie and book and why?

The last of the “safe” questions. If they are really freaking on the literary stuff, drop that part and just go with movie. You can’t imagine how many times I have people refuse to answer this one. Most of the time my suspicion is that they feel self-conscious about it, which tells you much, if not about the movie.


6. If you are walking by, and you see a homeless man on the street, do you stop to help him? (Be honest) If you knew it was Jesus, would that change your answer?

First of all, virtually anyone who says they stop is lying. When people do claim they would, listen to how they try to explain “no, I really would.” That’s how they lie, and you can catch them in it next time. The Jesus part is interesting because it makes some people change their minds, and others say they wouldn’t stop even more strongly (like they get some street cred for not helping Jesus or something.) The Jesus part is also a trigger to see how hostile the people are to faith. It doesn’t make them an atheist if they react negatively, but it does tell you there is something else going on there.


7. Would you rather be executed for a crime you were guilty of or not guilty of?

In all my time I’ve only had nine people answer that they didn’t want to be guilty of the crime. If you get one of those, keep quiet and I guarantee they will explain this in more detail than they mean to. The vast majority will say the opposite, and the only real insight you can glean here is how vehement they answer.


8. If they were going to make the movie of your life, what would the title be and who would play you?

Are you on a date with a narcissist? This question will tell you. It is also a fascinating insight to how they view their lives. Pay attention to who they say will play them. If it is an actor who is a better-looking version of them, this is probably the way they wished they looked. If they say they want to play themselves, that should tell you everything you need to know: this is a control freak. Proceed at your own risk.


9. If you were a superhero, A) What would your super-hero name be; B) what would your super-hero power be; C) what would you super-hero costume be?

I have tried and tried to come up with a matrix for what the super-power says about the person, but quite honestly it is just too wacky a question to be able to make any assumptions. It is always a fun question, though, and light-hearted, which is good since you are about to hit them with some tough ones. You’ll get a lot of laughs out of this. Only caveat: those who want their costume to be their regular clothes. I have always found these people to be a little bit odd.


10. Finish the following sentence: the fastest way to a man’s heart is _______.

Keep the gender the same no matter if you’re asking a man or woman. When you’re asking a girl, look at her eyes and lips. They will tell you what she’s thinking, no matter what she says. For men and women you will often hear “Through the left breast.” This is an avoidance answer, used to be funny and not actually process the question. Guaranteed there is some real pain in that person’s background, so be careful.


11. If you could cure cancer but you had to let someone in your family die, would you do it? What if you had to die?

Ask these questions one at a time. Let them ponder the first. They will almost always think about it a minute, and mull it over. Once they say no to killing the family, ask them the second part. Most will switch. Some could kill the family but not themselves. Get out of that date right then. Some couldn’t kill either. I don’t think this tells you too much about the person, since it’s hard to know what their home life has been, and also how cancer might have affected their family, but often those kinds of details will come up when they explain or just on the look of their face. If they do say they could kill their family right away, chances are they don’t go home at Christmas.


12. What do you wish people knew about you that they don’t?

I love love love this question. It is not psychological. Just pay friggin’ attention. They are trying to tell you something (whether they realize it or not), and you are wise to pick up on it.


13. What are you terrified people will find out about you?

They will lie about this. Be prepared for it, and accept it. You might get a refusal to answer (especially if you ask in email and not in person, where they will feel more pressure), or a “joke” answer. Rarely will you get much truth, but sometimes if you have already made a connection you will get some real insight. The one thing for sure: whatever they tell you, there is something much worse (that they are not about to tell you, because they are terrified you will then know it).


14. If you could change the world (the entire world) in one fundamental way, what would you do?

The Albert Schweitzer question. Asked earlier, this one is often responded to with jokes, but after the lie they gave you in the question before, most people subconsciously want to make up for it by giving a good answer here. Some people might try to impress you with this answer, but often they’ll really try their best.


There you go. I hope it works out for you. Along with your own answers, feel free to send me the data of how it went with your test subjects. And you happen to meet the girl or guy of your dreams on a date using this, I want to be mentioned in the wedding. (You know the wedding that comes before the marriage, the one you control. Or do you?)


Hyperion
April 15, 2005

Credits
Thanks to anyone who ever answered these questions


Motto Explanation
This comes from an episode of The Simpsons, one that is fast moving up my “best of” list (currently at #7). In it Homer eats a really hot pepper and hallucinates a space coyote who tells him to find his soul mate. When Homer finally does he says this in celebration

Calling all Hyperion Nation Artists
If you can draw, Hyperion needs to hear from you

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