Asking the Right Questions

I’m an extrovert. Most people assume this means I love to talk all the time, I’m energized by social situations, I like to solve problems by discussing them, I’m extremely friendly and imminently approachable and I am easy to get to know. Those are all generally true, but being married to an introvert has enlightened me in my approach to conversing with other people. Instead of simply talking a lot, I now focus on asking the right questions to stoke helpful conversation.

This may seem an odd thing to share at the offset of my latest article here on rAVe about the future trends I see for the house of worship market as it pertains to the audiovisual industry, but if you’ll trust that the rabbit I’m chasing is worth it, this article could radically influence your sales and marketing approach to the church market.

Communicating At Versus Communicating With

My experience in sales and marketing has benefited immensely from learning the art of asking truly great questions because it has allowed me to learn key aspects of others quickly and apply those insights for building rapport. I submit that the future of selling products and services, which will undoubtedly be further cluttered with communication tools, will make it more important than ever for all of us to learn the art of asking fantastic questions that lead to helpful insights.

Candidly, I thought I was a top-notch communicator because of my extroverted personality, my quick wit and a generous gifting of being glib. I don’t say that with a narcissistic bent, but rather from the humble pie that I ate when I sat down at a table with my wife and group of acquaintances and watched as she held a master class in the art of communication. At the heart of her deft skills is her insatiable curiosity to ask questions that lead to deeper levels of sharing, connection and insight.

When it came to communicating, the difference between the two of us was striking. It turns out that I generally communicated at people while she communicated with people. This distinction is one I’ve learned to apply in my writing, my presentations, my social media accounts, my marketing copy and my sales conversations.

Listen Well to Ask Great Questions

My first lesson in building rapport was to observe how well she listened. She maintains eye contact and pauses before she responds or asks a new question so that the other person has a chance to be fully heard and share without fearing — but instead, feeling comfortable with — a momentary silence between them. Far too often, conversations are less about listening to hear the other person and more about waiting for our turn to speak. To ask great questions, we have to learn to be patient and listen to hear what they’re saying without interrupting or short-changing their side of the conversation.

In marketing and sales, we fall victim to talking at our prospects and clients, just as I used to communicate at people rather than with them.

A great question is based on what you are hearing from the other person. You may have tremendous experience, helpful expertise and are loaded with lots of qualifying questions. But the best questions are those that organically come from first listening well to the other party.

Ask With Empathy

A master communicator wants to make the other person comfortable and builds flow into conversations by asking questions that get people talking about what they think and believe. People often have strong opinions about a topic they’ve researched, so it’s helpful to hear them out and discern what they are taking away from others and how that plays into your conversation with them. For my wife, this meant honing in when another person brought up a topic that elicited a strong response. In her disarming way, with an even and friendly tone that kept the conversation flowing, she asks questions that probe for the experience that formed their strong opinion. People, it turns out, are all human and have biases that are based on a single positive or negative experience. Far from the scientific method of building a baseline of similar experiences, people often formulate their thoughts and opinions based on on the extreme ends of experiences. My wife leveraged this by asking for the backstory of what informed their viewpoint. By not making the person defensive, she invited further exploration to hear them. This skill is called empathy and it is the single most powerful part in the art of conversation.

When people feel that you’re asking to understand — and not judge them — they more rapidly back down from an inadvertent defensive posture. When we learn to ask with empathy, we invite people to share without fear of judgment, which often builds rapport and trust to further deepen the conversation to understand their core fears, objections and desires. From a marketing and sales perspective, this is how we learn about how to qualify the person over time and provide feedback and recommendations that are far more likely to resonate with their belief and bias systems.

Be Known for Asking Great Questions

At a birthday party gathering with fellow friends and a number of new acquaintances of the friend being honored on her birthday, my wife built instant rapport with the people nearest her by asking questions, listening well, asking follow up questions with empathy and inviting others to share their thoughts and experiences. One of these people said to my wife: “That’s one of the things about you I admire the most: You ask fantastic questions!” This overt compliment generated an entire new line of questions, now asked by other attendees at her end of the table as they put into immediate practice the example set by my wife. The result was people laughing, learning and enjoying themselves so much that others farther away at the banquet table wanted to know why her end of the table was so much fun!

When we learn to ask great questions, we become trusted advisors and our credibility soars — and all without us having to drop an ounce of knowledge to prove our expertise. People organically trust those who make them feel comfortable. On dozens of occasions since I have applied these lessons from my wife, I’ve been told by business acquaintances, new friends and complete strangers: “I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this, but it’s easy to talk to you.” Personally, I’ve become more attuned with people and have learned to empathize and build rapport faster than most other people. Professionally, it affords me the privilege of asking harder questions, digging deeper into issue and positions me to be a trusted advisor to my clients and peers.

Those of us representing a brand (which means every single person, not just the marketers and salespeople) would do well to be like my wife and focus on communicating with others, asking questions with empathy, and becoming known for asking great questions. By doing so, this translates directly into more opportunities to become the preferred vendor and solution provider.

What say you about the art of asking the right questions to build rapport and trust as a preferred vendor?