The key to find out more of what you need to know is asking the right questions. There is no substitute for questions. If you don't ask you don't get. What you are essentially doing is assuming, which can lead to you looking like you don't care when you are wrong. We must change our focus from the answers to the questions. Questions are universal to reducing your investment of time whether you are a CEO, in administration, or sales.
For example: you are in sales trying to achieve a sale of your services. If you want to save time, you must ask questions that center around the prospects' DNA2. DNA2 stands for desire, need, ability, and authority. To reduce our time investment and shrink the decision timeline we must ask questions. We must do this before we even discuss our services or solutions. It doesn't matter whether you are selling a service, product, or series of ideas. In the end we are all working to sell something.
Whether you are in management, administration, sales, service, human resources or any other facet of business, preparation in advance is essential. Your communication will be far more effective based on your preparation. Too many of us "wing it" when it comes to our verbal dialogue. We just go with the flow.
When I make these types of comments from the platform to a real estate sales group, I always hear: "We don't want to be canned". It is amazing how most people, especially in sales, link organization and advance planning to being mechanical in our communication. Planned is not canned.
You would want and even expect the pilot who flies your plane from Los Angeles to Sydney Australia to be well prepared before take off. You would expect that they would have a check list and check points along the way to follow.
Without that proper planning the plane could be thousands of miles off because of starting a few degrees off at the beginning of the journey. It's easy to be off in our important conversations as well without proper planning. What is the ultimate goal we are aiming for? What is the information I need to do the best job in the least amount of time? What are the specific questions I need answers for? What are the potential stumbling blocks or choke points?
Be careful to not over prepare. There is a fine line between preparation and creative avoidance. We will need to invest a few minutes, maybe around five minutes to ten minutes into an important call to prepare. If you are spending thirty minutes to an hour for most calls or conversations you deem important, it's probably too much time with much of the time spent in creative avoidance.
Both open ended and closed ended questions have a place in strategic communication. The most valuable questions in the early points of your efficient dialogue are open ended questions. We are trying to gather information, thoughts, ideas, observations, opinions, and comments. It's much easier and quicker to reach mutual agreement or a mutually beneficial objective through open ended questions. In crafting open ended questions we have to ask questions that begin with: Who?
You are forcing dialogue, conversation, and research to happen when you use these questions. Starting your questioning with who, what, when, why and how will narrow the focus, define the standards, give you insight to their thinking and expectations. Too many people shy away from questions like:
- Who else will be involved in the final decision?
- Who else are you considering for this position?
- What else should I know about?
- What is the specific standard of performance?
- What has caused this move to be on the front burner now?
These are just a few examples of questions that could be used to help you gather more information, reduce your time and know the value of the sale.
We all do things for our own reasons. Why we do something is the power behind decisions and believing. If we know someone's why and then align that why with our actions, outcomes, and what they will receive it's a powerful combination of success and time management. Asking why can seem like we are a three year old whose favorite question is, "Why?" We can often replay in our brain that painful experience of having that youngster ask a never ending stream of why questions. The reasoning is they are trying to learn. We should be so bold. Don't be scared of the why, embrace the why.
Our success will be enhanced if we clearly know the why of a decision or sales opportunity. If you are in sales you have to know and ask the why questions. These questions save you tremendous time because you find out early if someone isn't a prospect. They also help you avoid the prospect stalling in the sales process.
Many experts in time management, sales, customer service, and management tell you to avoid the use of close ended questions. I do not share their abstinence view of close ended questions. A closed ended question is very effective to establish how you are doing or progressing to a goal, objective, or earning the customer's business. Its use must be limited and strategic in nature, but can save you lots of time. Essentially a closed ended question leads to two basic responses which are "yes" or "no." For the unskilled at following up a closed ended question with an open ended question the dialogue often dies there. The correctly placed closed ended question narrows the focus. It can give you information that you are on track or off track. It can reveal, as in sales, where the prospect is at in their thinking process. It's really a temperature gauge that allows you to respond and either turn up or turn down the heat. Here are some possible closed ended questions:
- Is this what you envisioned when you delegated this to me?
- Do you believe I am the right person for the job?
- Do I need to run this by anyone else?
All these reflect closed ended questions where a yes or no response could end the conversation unless you ask the follow up questions. If you don't use the closed ended to "test' the person all you are doing is gathering more and more information without moving to conclusion or the decision.
When you ask either an open ended or closed ended question you might need clarification. This is especially true with close ended questions because you generally do not receive a yes or no response, sometimes you will receive a maybe, which really needs clarification because it is a conditional response.
The maybe is probably the most misunderstood response in the world. Depending on our level of optimism as a human being we can take a maybe as a yes or no. If we are naturally like Eeyore, the donkey in Winnie the Pooh, we immediately assume the maybe is a no. If we are bouncing around emotionally like Roger Rabbit we can take a maybe for a veiled yes. The truth is a maybe is a maybe until clarified as to how close to yes or no the maybe really is currently. To clarify we need to ask simple response questions like:
- What does that mean exactly?
- Under what circumstance do you see yourself using my service?
- Under what conditions would you consider me?
- How did you arrive at your conclusion?
- So if I did ______________ would that change your decision to a yes?
- Would you ever see yourself giving me that opportunity?
- Under what conditions would that be?
Don't be too quick to rush into another item, problem, challenge, opportunity, or prospect without clarifying this situation first.
People love to dream, plan, vision cast and project themselves into the future. For most they have an idea of what they would like things to look like or the outcome they want down the road. By asking dream questions you can help establish yourself as a "go to" person, resource, or service provider for both now and in the future.
- Where do they see themselves in five years?
- What are their long term goals for their family?
- What are the most challenging issues they see now and in the future?
- If they could close their eyes and have one problem taken away which would it be?
The objective is to project them to a better time and place where their results are increased, their goals have been achieved, and their problems and challenges reduced. If we can do that we can serve them more effectively. When we go negative we can damage our opportunity. We could damage our opportunity beyond repair or dramatically increase our investment of time to repair it. We could put someone on the defensive and lose the ability to gather the information that we really needed.
For example, we should ask questions like "What would you like to see improved?" rather than asking "What didn't you like about____?" The latter is more forceful and confrontational but can cause defensive feelings in people. Using the word "improve" has a more positive tone. Using "what should I have done differently?" or "how could I have done better?" is a positive way to say that I care enough about you, your satisfaction, my career, my service and a successful outcome for you. I want to do better. I am willing to receive honest feedback to get better.