The Art of Questioning
Of all the tools in your persuasion toolbox, questioning is
probably the one most often used by Master Persuaders.
immediate involvement. Questions are used in the persuasion
process to create mental involvement, to guide the conversation,
the pace of conversation, to clarify statements and objections,
to determine beliefs, attitudes, and values, to force you to
slow down, to find out what your prospect needs, and to show
your sincerity. Questioning is a very diverse and useful tool.
Neil Rackham and John Carlisle observed hundreds of negotiators
in action in an attempt to discover what it takes to be a top
negotiator. Their key finding was that skilled negotiators
ask more than two times as many questions as average negotiators.
Larry Wilson also found that four year olds ask 300 questions
a day while the average college graduate asks only 20.
Much like movement, questions elicit an automatic response from
our brains. We are taught to answer a question when it is posed
to us. We automatically think of a response when asked a question.
Even if we don’t verbalize the answer, we think about it in our
head. Most people want to be cooperative. We don’t want to be considered
rude if we don’t answer the questions. In this way, a question
stimulates our thinking response.
Let’s look a little bit at how to form good questions.
First, design your questions ahead of time. The structure of
will dictate how your listener will answer them. When asked to
estimate a person’s height, people will answer differently depending
on whether the question asked is "How tall is he?" versus "How
short is he?" In one study, when asking how tall versus how
short a basketball player was, researchers received dramatically
different results. The "how tall" question received the
guess of 79 inches while the "how short" question received
the guess of 69 inches. Words have a definite effect on how people
respond. "How fast was the car going?" suggests a high
speed. "At what speed was the car traveling?" suggests
a moderate speed. "How far was the intersection?" suggests
the intersection was far away.
If you are probing for lots of information, it
is best to keep your questions unstructured. The more unstructured
the more information you are likely to get. In a conversation in
which you are asking a good many unstructured questions, the other
person is likely to be doing most of the talking. Along this vein,
it is a good idea to ask open-ended questions. It is too easy to
answer a question that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." For
example, instead of saying, "Do you wish you had decided differently?" ask, "How
did you feel after you made that decision?" Then the person’s
answer can be used as a device to lead into your more detailed
questions, without your seeming intrusive: "Why did you make
that decision?" "What do you wish you could change about
A good rule of thumb is to start with the easiest
questions first. You want to draw your audience into the conversation
and help them
feel relaxed and comfortable. People are encouraged by answers
they know are right. Begin the conversation by starting with a
general topic instead of a specific subject. You need to get the
wheels in your listeners’ minds rolling before you ask them
to answer the specific questions.
One facet of questioning is the use of leading
questions. Leading questions are questions that give a semi-interpretation
audience. The best trial lawyers are experts at using leading questions
to cross-examine and influence witnesses. Elizabeth Loftus researched
how leading questions influenced eyewitness testimonies. In one
project, her subjects watched a one-minute multiple car accident.
One group was asked, "About how fast were the cars going when
they smashed into each other?" The second group was asked, "How
fast were the cars going when they hit?" The third group was
asked, "How fast were they going when they contacted?" The
first group estimated that the cars were going about 40.8 miles
an hour. The second group estimated 34.0 miles an hour. And the
third group estimated 31.8 miles an hour. The same question led
to three different answers just by using alternative phrasing.
Leading questions not only alter the way we interpret facts, but
they also influence what we remember. In another study conducted
by Loftus, subjects who were asked, "Did you see the broken
headlight?" were two or three times more likely to answer
yes than subjects that were asked, "Did you see a broken headlight?"
Questioning can also measure the level of receptivity
in your prospects. How receptive your audience is correlates
with how many
questions or statements arise. So what if there are no questions?
What do you do? If there are no questions, it could be because
the audience needs time to think about what you have just said,
they could be afraid to ask because of what others might think,
or they just might not be able to think of a good question to ask.
Maybe you went on too long or stepped on a sensitive issue. Perhaps
the audience has already made up their minds, or maybe they don’t
speak English. The best questions draw a person into a conversation
and out of being unreceptive. So, it is to your advantage to direct
questions at your prospects that will reel them in: What do you
think about…? Have you ever thought about…? How do
you feel about…? When did you start…? Where did you find…?
Be prepared to field questions that the audience
will ask and want to know. Brainstorm ahead of time for possible
scenarios, and answers. There will always be someone who asks the
tough questions. If you are the expert, you are expected to know
the answers. Obviously though, if you don’t know the answer, you
should not make one up. If the question is way out of line, you
can say you don’t know the answer. But what do you do when you
audience expects you to know the answer and you don’t? How do you
save yourself from losing credibility? One way is to throw the
question back to the audience and ask for the audience’s help or
opinions. Another strategy is asking to have the question repeated.
This gives you more time to think of a response. Restate the question
and ask if that is correct. This also helps you make sure you understand
the question. You can request that the person asking the question
consult with you later: "Get with me at the break so we can
talk about that." It is better to tell one person you don’t
know than the whole audience. Alternatively you can ask the person
posing the question if they have any of their own insights into
the subject. No matter what, when you get people involved in the
process, you will get some objections. The way you handle objections
will correlate with how mentally involved people become with your
message. The better you become at handling objections, the more
persuasive you will become.
When you become a Master Persuader, you will learn to love objections.
You will come to understand that when people voice their objections,
it actually indicates interest and shows that they are paying
attention to what you are saying. The key to persuasion is anticipating
all objections before you hear them. Fielding questions and handling
objections can make or break you as a persuader. Such skills
will help you in every aspect of your life.
Here are some tips on how to handle objections:
- The first
thing is to find out if the objection is something you can
solve. Suppose you are negotiating a large office furniture
order and the objection comes up about not being able to
your furniture. You then find out your prospect just declared
bankruptcy. Obviously there is nothing you can do or say
that will resolve such an objection.
- Let your
prospect state his objection; hear him out completely, without
interruption. Wait until he is finished before you say
anything. Hold your response until the other person is receptive
to what you are about to say. This is the first time your prospect
has voiced his objection; he will not listen until he has said
what is on his mind.
ask your prospect to restate or repeat his key points. Every
time he replays his objection, it becomes clearer in both
your minds. Letting him speak, particularly if he is upset, drains
emotion from his objection. Allowing him to voice his concerns
also gives you time to think about a response and helps you determine
his intent in bringing up the objection in the first place.
compliment your prospect on his objection. As a Master Persuader,
you can appreciate a good objection; it dictates the
direction in which you should take your presentation. You don’t
have to prove you are right 100% of the time. Skillful persuaders
will always find some point of agreement. It’s important to recognize
the apprehension or objections people have instead of ignoring
- Stay calm.
Scientifically proven tests show that calmly stated facts are
more effective in getting people to change their minds
than are threats and force.
be arrogant or condescending. Show empathy with your prospect’s objection. Let him know others have felt this
way. Talk in the third person; use a disinterested party to prove
your point. This is why we often use testimonials – to let
someone else do the persuading for us.
- Give the
person room to save face. People will often change their minds
and agree with you later. Unless your prospect has
made a strong stand, leave the door open for him to later agree
with you and save face at the same time. It could be that he did
not have all the facts, that he misunderstood, or that you didn’t
explain everything correctly.
If you are dealing with a stubborn person who absolutely will
not change his mind about anything,
don’t panic. There are
reasons why this person is closed-minded and always saying "no" to
everything. He might not have a clear idea about what you are proposing,
he may have been hurt in the past, he is afraid of being judged,
or he may feel his ideas are not appreciated. Don’t take it personally;
it will happen from time to time.
the next Millionaire Diamond Mine
The Art of Questioning
taken from Magnetic Persuasion by Kurt Mortensen
Mortensen, author of Exponential Success Skills and Weapons
of Influence, is one of American’s leading authorities
on Persuasion, Motivation and Influence. After receiving a
Masters of Business Administration and a Bachelors of Arts,
he began many successful entrepreneurial ventures, through
which he has acquired many years of both experience and success.
In addition to his extensive entrepreneurial and sales experiences,
Kurt is a sales and persuasion coach helping thousands of people
reach higher levels of success, income and persuasion mastery.
Currently, he is a speaker, consultant, and a Trainer for Mark
Victor Hansen and Robert G. Allen Protégés.