The One Minute Millionaire Diamond Mine
 Inner Wealth Perspective
 Law of Involvement: Create & Awaken Curiosity
 by Kurt Mortensen

The Art of Questioning

Of all the tools in your persuasion toolbox, questioning is probably the one most often used by Master Persuaders. Questions gain immediate involvement. Questions are used in the persuasion process to create mental involvement, to guide the conversation, to set 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 your questions 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 question, 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 your decision?"

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 to your 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 questions, 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:

  1. 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 afford 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Always 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.
  4. Always 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 them.
  5. 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.
  6. Don’t 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.
  7. 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.

Quick Note: 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.


In the next Millionaire Diamond Mine
The Art of Questioning


Excerpts taken from Magnetic Persuasion by Kurt Mortensen

Kurt 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.