The Power of Questions: Know what you are asking

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As kids, we start off making sounds and eventually words. Then we move to phrases and statements. That feels like a big accomplishment. Then a curiosity kicks in and we realize we can use these same words to construct questions. Questions open us up to consume new information.

Who is your customer? (Person)

What do they want? (Thing or Activity)

Why do they need it? (Reason or Justification and/or Criteria)

Where else can they find it? (Location)

When do they need it most? (Time)

How will you deliver it to them? (Process)

What makes a question so powerful? It directs your attention. It directs your energy. In school days most kids learned to pay attention to answers, but as Zig Ziglar says, “Questions are the answers!”

Every question has an answer. “No answer” is still an answer. But more important than anything else is knowing what you are asking and what kind of information should be contained in the response. How often have you asked a question and paid no attention to the answer?

It is more common than you think. Even if you were listening, do you know exactly what your question was asking? Often times one will ask a “what” question and get a “where” response. For example, “What are you going to do today?” They might respond by saying, “I am going to go to the mall?”

Now you may think that you got your answer, but in actuality, they just told you “where”, the destination, not exactly “what”, the activity. Now if it doesn’t matter that much, you can let it go, but what if it was crucial information; information that could save a deal or even close a deal. How important would a precise answer mean then?

So what would be an appropriate “what” response? How about, “I plan on doing some shopping.” This clearly answers the “what” question. This answer tells you the thing or activity that will take place. The first response only gave you a location—a “where” response”.

Let’s take another example. You have just closed the deal. You ask, “How do you want this delivered?” The response you get is, “I need it by Friday.” Would you be satisfied with this response? If you said “No,” then you are correct. True you have more information. Their response has saved you the trouble of asking the “when” question, but you don’t have the answer to the “how” question.

So you could reply by saying, “Great, we’ll have it for you by Friday—no problem, and in order to do that we will need to FedEx it to you? Will that be acceptable?” This response paces their initial response of the “when” and adds in the “how”. If they are okay with this, then you have answers to both questions.

What if they said, “No, we can’t justify the expense of FedEx, however we do need it delivered by Friday!”

As you start becoming skilled at listening, you will begin to hear the next question to ask. If they answered the question you asked, you can go on to getting more information. If they didn’t answer it, then your next question can redirect their attention to the previous question you asked. (Just ask it in a different way!)

In the above reply, you could easily ask, “Why do you need it by Friday?” This response will get you the criteria they have for their request. And based on their response to this question, you can ask many more questions.

You can begin to see how this could continue on longer and longer as you get more and more specific information. The key is that when you know the type of response your question is supposed to get, you can’t be thrown off track. Some people call this instinct. I call it precision in communication.

Action Step: Make a list of commonly asked questions you use in your profession and notice what types of answers these questions should get you. Then pay attention to when you ask these questions, are you getting the appropriate response? If not and its important, then ask it another way!

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