Too Quick to Answer (Issue 650)

In which we are reminded not to answer questions before we fully understand their intent.

“Will this consulting project address segment boundaries,?” one of the executives in the room asked.

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

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, my Voice in the Head shouted, “May Day!  May Day!” and warning lights flashed everywhere. Ah-OOOO-ga. Ah-OOOOO-ga. “May Day!”

Why “May Day?”

Because he wasn’t asking for information, he was signaling me, and my polite and well-intended, conversation-focusing answer created an objection: “Well… If this engagement doesn’t address segment boundaries, I won’t support it fully.”   From that point forward, in his opinion, I was playing “catch up.”  I had lost his trust.

So, how could I have answered with a trust-building response, starting in the same moment?

HIM: “Will this engagement address segment boundaries?”

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 your sales representatives to … blah blah blah.

HIM:  “Yes, because… blah blah blah.

At that point I could have…

  • Asked others in the group, “How do you feel about this concern?”
  • Said, “Here’s how we could address your concern” and share options for discussion.
  • Deferred, saying, “Great concern, let me think about it for a few minutes and come back to it.”

Any one of those answers would have increased rapport, connection, momentum, and trust.

Moral of the story: ANY time a prospect or client asks a question about our products or services or industry conditions, anything 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?”

Unless we understand the point of view or question 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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