By Michael Lovas and Pam Holloway
So the first question in this article about asking questions has to be: “Why Use Questions?”
You want to use questions because they work! Plus, the person who asks the questions controls the situation—and this is true whether you’re a trainer, a salesperson, a manager, etc.
Asking the right kindof question at the right time can get people to listen to you, when they wouldn’t otherwise want to. Learn to ask the right questions, and you can turn a negative situation into a positive one.
If you’re only using the basic fact-finding questions, you’re losing a huge opportunity to improve results. If you’re asking those big, open-ended questions, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. But, for now, let’s look at why you should care to ask the right questions at the right time.
1. Questions help build rapport and trust. They show people you’re listening to them and are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Questions provide a perfect way to introduce yourself and your services and tie those services directly to what matters most to your client.
2. Questions help people self-discover you. This is a critically important variable in the effectiveness of any communication. Simply telling me about a feature or benefit will have far less influence on me than if I discover it myself. Questions enable the self-discovery process. They get people to persuade themselves, and research shows that approach to be most effective. The bottom line: People believe what theysay, not what yousay. But, changes are slim they’d say it unless you ask the right questions to give them the opportunity.
3. Questions help keep you focused. Questions lead to quality listening. They make it easier for you to concentrate on what’s most important in the situation, and they help keep you focused. When you focus on the answers, it’s much easier to see opportunities to ask follow-up questions.
4. Questions enhance your credibility. They make you look smart, self-confident, interesting, and interested in whom you’re talking to. They give you an opportunity to show your wisdom, expertise, and experience without pontificating or running off at the mouth.
To understand how questions work, let’s look at what happens in our brains when someone asks us a question.
1. We are compelled to answer. There’s something in our makeup as humans that causes a sort of automatic answering reflex to kick in the instant we hear a question. It’s related to our need for completion. A question is like a joke without a punch line. It’s incomplete, and the other person starts to fill in the blanks to complete it.
Warning: The question must be the right kind of question, asked at the right time. Otherwise, you risk invading the prospect’s personal space.
2. Questions stimulate the brain. Using PET scans, researchers have discovered that questions stimulate the new brain or neocortex. Larry Wilson, author and founder of Pecos River Training, explains, “Our old brain that’s been around for millions of years is the part that runs by instinct. That’s the part that animals have. They don’t ask questions. The purpose of our ‘new brain’ is to override and challenge our old brain, and we do that by asking questions.”
3. Questions get through a person’s mental filters and defense mechanisms. Each of us has a unique set of mental filters through which we see the world and filter incoming information. That information is either retained, deleted, or changed. Questions help you increase the odds your messages get accepted and retained. They accomplish this in two ways:
Warning: The question must be the right kind of question, asked at the right time. Otherwise, you risk getting deleted.
What’s the Best Question?
There is no such thing as THE one question that will get your clients, colleagues, or employees to open up or trust you. It doesn’t work that way. Additionally, you cannot use a scripted set of questions with every prospect in every situation.
Asking questions in a business situation is truly an art anda science. It’s an art in terms of knowing what to ask and when. That’s based on the other person. It’s a science from the standpoint of why you use questions—how they work and what happens in the brain.
Long-Answer vs. Short-Answer Questions
Most salespeople, for example, have been taught to use open-ended questions, the ones that elicit a long answer. The idea is to get people talking and involved. “What are your goals for your retirement … What do you want to leave as a legacy for your organization?” Unfortunately, sometimes those long-answer questions are too open, too big, too invasive. Far too often, salespeople ask them too early in the conversation—before they have earned the right to ask them.
Think in terms of adding points to an account. Call them “Connectivity Points.” You have to visualize the new relationship with that prospect as a path. Each additional step gives you a point. But points can be taken away by asking the wrong question at the wrong time.
Asking open-ended questions too soon can detract from your relationship and credibility. Open-ended questions have a place, but the key is to ask them at the right time.
Before your clients will trust you enough to answer a question that starts with “what’s important to you about ______?” they must perceive you as safe, credible, and trustworthy. Opening your conversations with such an open-ended question does little to establish your safety, which is key to establishing credibility, which is key to establishing trust.
If I come into your home as a stranger and begin asking questions, what questions would you feel most comfortable with first? They are questions that require a short answer. They’re questions that elicit a “Yes” or “No” answer. Once you sense the prospect is freely and comfortably answering those questions, you’ve gained enough points to ask questions that require a longer answer. Those are based on “What” and “How.” If you can methodically build your conversation to that point, you will have the highest probability of turning that prospect into a client.
Michael Lovas is the author of 10 books, three columns, and a thousand articles on Professional Credibility and the Psychology of Business Communication. He’s the co-founder of AboutPeople, a firm specializing in business therapy.
For a complimentary copy of his new eBook “Questions Are the Answer,” contact Lovas at: firstname.lastname@example.org call 509.465.5599.