Question mark icon in the form of an open book

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Go back in time and remember your childhood. This is easy to imagine when you look at your children. There is something particular about children and how they learn and explore. Children investigate and discover asking questions. They are unstoppable when asking questions, they even get on your nerves from time to time because of their ever ongoing investigations. Most important in this investigating process, is that they have the ability to ask the right questions:

  • why?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • How much?
  • Who?
  • How?

These are very simple questions, but adults keep on forgetting these questions. The main advantage of these questions is that they are open questions. They require a real answer, and not a ‘no’ or ‘yes’. Why is it then that adults forget during and after their education to ask these simple and -most important- open questions? The reason for this is quite simple! Adults do not ‘dare’ to ask these questions. Or better most adults fear these questions are not appropriate. That is in fact the core of the issue! Our education teaches us norms and standards and learns us no to step outside what is called ‘good manners’, ‘etiquette’ and ‘respect’. Asking questions has nothing to do with this education! Open questions can be asked very well in a very polite way, complying with the rules of etiquette. Open questions are not rude, nor offensive! It all has to do with how the questions are asked. When the one asking the questions starts by motivating WHY he or she is asking the question, the one asked will understand the reason, and if he feels the motivation is genuine, he will not doubt or hesitate to answer!

Another reason why we forget to ask open question, is what I want to refer to as the ‘curse of knowledge’. We love to think we know. We make assumptions, assumptions and assumptions. Why do we make assumptions? Because we ‘think’ we know!

I am sure that you have been in situations, where the assumptions you made were entirely wrong! Is assuming in itself wrong then? No, absolutely not. But only as long as you express your assumption and validate the assumption. How to validate an assumption? That is an easy one! Just ask the person you are talking with if the assumption is right! This can be a very easy and straightforward yes/no question.

Why, may you think, am I writing this post? Very good question! An open one! For the very simple reason that open questions are the basis of sales and consultancy! Without these questions, it is very hard, if not impossible to sell or to deliver a good consultancy project!

Another important motivation to ask open questions, is the fact that when selling or consulting the salesperson or the consultant should be in the lead. How can one lead a discussion, a conversation? Right! You got it: by asking question!!

Another reason to ask questions is to understand how the person you are talking with sees his/her world and how he or she makes decisions. This is one of the principles of NLP, Neuro Linguistic Programming. The way a person sees the world influences how he makes decisions and what drives him. When negotiating a contract, discussing options during a consultancy project, this understanding may be very beneficial.

In an next post, I will focus more on the sales process and the questions to ask in a sales process.

Reading material:

Introducing NLP: Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)