Too Quick to Answer (Issue 491)

In which we are reminded that we need to understand the question before we answer. "Will this engagement address commercial real estate loans?",  one of the executives in the room asked.

I smiled and gently replied, “No, that’s not our focus this morning.”

Without breaking eye contact with me, he smiled tightly and continued: “Well, the reason I ask is….” and he described his concerns. They were good concerns.

As I was listening, the Little Voice in My Head shouted, “May Day! May Day! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!”

Why “Wrong?”

Instead of building trust and his commitment to the engagement, I created an objection. (“If this engagement doesn’t address real estate loans, I won’t support it.”) Instead of strengthening my ability to understand him and lead discussion, my answer undermined me. From that point forward, in his eyes, I was playing catch up.

Note to self: He wasn’t asking about our project plan. He didn’t want information. He was signaling me.

Rewind… Run a trust-building response, starting in the same moment:

HIM: “Will this engagement address real estate loans?”

ME: “Ah, good question. Sounds like that’s an important concern for you.”

HIM: “Yes, it is….blah blah blah”

ME: “So your concern is that you want … blah blah blah.”

HIM: “Yes, because… blah blah blah.”

At that point I could …

  • Ask others in the group, “What other perspectives do you have about real estate loans?”
  • Say, “Here’s how we could address your concern and share options for discussion.”
  • Defer, saying, “Great concern, let me think about it for a few minutes and come back to it.”

Any one of those answers increases rapport, connection, trust, and momentum.

Moral of the story: ANY time a prospect or client asks a question about something more substantive than “Would you like something to drink?,” learn first what’s behind the question:

  • “What prompts you to ask?” (Or, “For what reason do you ask?”)
  • “Sounds like that’s an important concern.”
  • “That’s interesting. Tell me more….”
  • “How do others feel about ___ ?”
  • “When you say _____, what do you mean?”

Don’t be too quick to answer.Unless we understand the question or point of view behind the question, we’re more likely to give a “wrong” answer than we are to give a “right” one.  Don’t be too quick to answer.

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