Soon I’ll be attending a convention where I expect to hear a lot of “we can do it” messages. Such pep talks have become standard procedure to encourage and energize people, especially groups with a task to accomplish or a goal to reach.

But according to Daniel Pink, author of To Sell Is Human[1], it’s more effective to pose a question, “Can we do it?” Pink posits that, when we hear a question, our brains are more likely to shift into problem solving mode, think about solutions, and remember past successes that might suggest helpful courses of action.

I have a hunch that we might bump this up a notch by posing an open question. If you ask the closed question, “Can we do it?” you might hear a hearty chorus of, “Yes, we can!” Nothing wrong with that. And according to Pink, those choristers’ brains are now in creative problem solving mode.

But by asking the open question, “How can we do it?” you not only ensure that people begin to think about solutions; your question also encourages them by presupposing that they can achieve their goal; the question isn’t “if,” only “how.” You show confidence in them, and their confidence and pride increase as workable ideas begin to take shape. They more fully believe and feel that they will succeed.

Now, ask them, “Can we do it?” and the “Yes, we can” will come through all the stronger, not just a knee jerk chorus—but a strong belief coupled with the drive to get down to work.

[1] Nick Tasler, “How to Get Your Way,” Psychology Today, June 2013, p. 17