Quick. Can you guess the most powerful communication tool on earth?
It’s the question. Indeed, it is the one thing that separates the top salespeople from all their competitors. It’s the number one tool of the highest-paid, most effective leadership coaches because they ask the right questions, at the right time, in the right way, bringing about huge change. And the question is the hallmark of relationships that keep on growing deeper and stronger.
But I would wager that you’ve never been taught how to ask questions. Most people haven’t.
I was fortunate, however. My father sat me down and taught me how to ask questions at age seven when I wanted to start selling greeting cards and kitchen items door to door.
The result? I sold so much merchandise that the President of the company called me up to find out my secret. She was mighty surprised when she discovered I was just a kid.
I got my first professorship for a job that didn’t even exist. But the way I asked got the university’s attention and closed the deal.
The power of the question is quite amazing, when it’s done right. That’s why it will be one of the sections in my next and last public offering of my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program coming March 31-April 1, 2022. Registration will open soon.
Of course, there’s not room in the Tuesday Tip to teach you everything you need to know about questions. But let me give you a few tips on how you can start asking more effectively.
► 1. Tell yourself there is nothing to fear.
People are often afraid to ask for what they want because they’re afraid of horrific rejection and humiliation. But that’s just plain silly.
Think about it. There are very few times in life when you asked for something, and as a result of asking, you suffered severe consequences. In most cases, no one hit you, spit upon you, or wrote you up in the newspaper. In most cases, about the worst thing that did happen or could happen is someone saying “no”, and you can handle that.
As an old Chinese proverb says, “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask a question is a fool forever.”
Before you make your request, remind yourself how important your request is. Tell yourself that the only thing that matters is whether or not you are making a good, clear point. By focusing on the merits of your request — and not on how you will appear to others — your fears will diminish
► 2. Organize your thoughts.
The worst time to figure out how you’re going to phrase your question is when you’re about to ask it. Indeed, numerous salespeople can tell you hundreds of stories about the bad results they got when they simply “winged it” or “made it up as they went along”.
So think about how you’re going to phrase your question before you ask. You might even write out your phraseology … so it’s clear and specific rather than vague and wishy-washy. You can’t expect to get the results you want if the other side doesn’t understand your question.
► 3. Ask with confidence.
Before you try to sell others, you’ve got to sell yourself. You’ve got to believe that you will eventually win over the other side or you’ll ask with less confidence. And that will cause the other person to take you and your questions less seriously.
To get more confidence, practice your request in front of a mirror. Or ask someone else how you sound when you ask. You want to come across with confidence, sincerity enthusiasm, and determination … because that increases your odds of getting the “yes” you want.
So make sure your voice sounds confident. And make sure you maintain steady eye contact to show that you are serious.
If you’ve got employees you’re training or kids you’re coaching, teach them how to ask for what they want. Because “asking” is one of the key skills they’ve got to master if they’re going to get the cooperation of others or form a healthy relationship with someone. Expecting someone to know what they want — without asking — is pure craziness. People can’t read minds.
But like so many people, they’re probably initially afraid, refusing to ask, beating around the bush, or copping out by thinking “They should know what I need. I shouldn’t have to ask.” That might even sound like the way you think.
When my kids were little, they’d say things like, “Dad, can you ask Jimmy’s mother if… or… Dad, will you ask the teacher about…” They didn’t want to ASK for themselves. So
I would coach my kids on how to ask and I’d let them practice as I observed from a distance. If, for example, they wanted to return something to a store and get a refund, I’d have them ask… rather than have me do it for them. Of course, they didn’t want to but I wanted them to become effective, assertive, self-empowered adults.
► 4. Prepare for resistance.
Even if you do everything right in your question asking, you might still meet some resistance. The other person might want to confer with somebody else. He might put you off — hoping you’ll forget about it — or just plain say “no.”
If someone resists your request, remind yourself that you may not get what you want immediately. So what? Don’t view the other person’s resistance as a dead end but merely part of a continuing discussion.
And by all means, avoid any extreme emotional reaction. If you lose your temper or become deeply discouraged, you will almost certainly doom your request. Just be polite, gracious, and firm.
► 5. Say “Thanks”.
Whether or not you get what you want, say, “Thank you.” Gratitude will make the other person more open to giving you what you want — or more of what you want — in the future.
You can say “thanks” directly or you can follow-up with a note. Whatever method you choose, gratitude keeps you from holding a grudge — which is difficult to hide — and only works against you in the long run.
► 6. Remind yourself that most people like to be asked.
Mamie Adams taught me that.
Mamie always went to a branch post office in her town because the postal employees at that location were very friendly. One year, just before Christmas, she went there to buy stamps even though the lines were particularly long.
Someone pointed out that there was no need to wait in line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby. “I know,” said Mamie, “but the machine won’t ask me about my arthritis.” You see, people like to be asked.
Even the Bible says, “Ask and you shall receive.” Use some of these tips when you ask and I know you will get a lot more from your coworkers, customers, and even your family members.
Final Thought: To G-E-T you have to A-S-K. Asking questions is what brains were made to do.