Are You Ready for Some Football? (Issue 919)

In which we are reminded to ditch the cultural assumptions and  to ask open-ended questions.

“So, who IS your football team?”

I was just beginning a conversation with a sales representative for a conference company. He’d called me, referred by a friend. After the initial “hello‘s” he said, “So, are you a New England Patriots fan?”

 “No,” I replied, answering the question I was asked. (I have enormous respect for coach Belichick and I’m in awe of Tom Brady’s work and I’m not a Patriots fan.)

“Celtics?” No. “Bruins?”  No. “Red Sox?”  I follow them but I’m pretty casual about it.

And then he asked the question: “So, who IS your football team?“ with a voice tone that suggested either he either couldn’t believe that I didn’t have a favorite football team or that he thought I was of diminished mental capacity because I didn’t have a favorite football team.

To play along, I responded, “Harvard University.” (I live a block from Harvard’s campus, so I go to several Harvard sports events each season.)

What followed was three seconds of stunned (or incredulous) silence followed by, “OK, so let me tell you about this conference.”  

Two points. First, his entire opening (up to the point of “Who IS your football team?”) consisted of  closed-ended questions. “So, are you a New England Patriots fan?” is a closed-ended question.

He could have asked an OPEN-ended question, like, “Oh, what do you enjoy most about Boston?” and heard  an answer we both could’ve worked with to build a little rapport.  But, he didn’t.  

Second, he further wrong-footed his closed-ended questions with a cultural assumption – that, since I am a Boston-based male,  I must be a sports fan who loves the New England Patriots (or, at least, ONE of the Boston professional sports teams) and football.  

Eh…Not really…I’m interested in other things… but, frankly, by that point, he’d lost me.

Nick Miller assists banks and credit unions to sell services to business clients through better sales strategies and execution. He is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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