A Matter of Intent

"I have some concerns about the documents,"  I said as our conversation began. The documents in question were two contracts running, about 80 pages each.  10 point type. Single spaced. Numbing. He treated my point as an objection he could "handle" by minimizing.

“Don’t let that scare you,” came the prompt reply, which then continued on…. and on…. and on…for what seemed like several minutes… through all the reasons why the documents were drafted that way, who they were designed to protect, why they were drafted in such extensively precise language, and why I should feel comfortable signing them…

I interrupted. “John, I have a question about Section 6, paragraph 3, subsection a.1 which describes a penalty. What causes that to happen?”

“Oh,” he said. “That’s really nothing to worry about. That happens when…”

And he was off and running again, answering the question he heard but not the question I was actually asking, which was:   “How can I lose money  if the Section 6, paragraph 3 penalty is triggered?”  The intent of my question was to determine, “when and in what amounts am I vulnerable?”

Sometimes the questions we hear our clients ask aren’t the questions our clients are actually asking us. Before we decide to “overcome their objections” or “answer their questions,” we need to understand intent – what is the intent of the communication, not just what we’re thinking about when the question was asked.

In certain circumstances, asking something like, “What information do you need?” can be useful.  Good all-purpose responses might be, “Oh, what are your concerns?” or “Ah, what are you thinking?” or even “Hmmm, what are you feeling?”

This works in many situations. Here’s the home version. Pick the alternative that creates the most connection between the buyer and seller:

Your companion: “I don’t want to go to the movies tonight.”


Response A:  “Oh, come on. It’ll be fine. It’s a great movie and I’m sure you’ll have a good time.”

Response B: “OK, well, forget the movies, we can order in Chinese and play Gin Rummy and relax.”

Response C: “Oh?  What are you thinking?”

If you picked response C, you’re *RIGHT*!   Response A is a mild form of bullying. Response B is a more benevolent power play – “I’m in charge and I’ll decide.”  Response C… opens a discussion in which you could listen and learn something. Well done!

The next time your prospect, client, child, or date makes a statement you hear as an objection or a question, don’t “handle it.”  Discover intent, and work with that, rather than with the words you heard.

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