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The psychology of asking questions, part 1

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Your business is most likely based on asking questions, but why? The answer is rooted in psychology – the person who asks the questions controls the situation. But there’s a catch: you have to ask the right kind of question at the right time. If you can do that, you can be far more effective at getting people to listen to you. Here are the reasons:

1. Questions help build rapport and trust. They show people you’re listening to them and that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say. Questions provide a perfect way to gently introduce yourself and tie what you do directly to what matters most to your client.

2. Questions help people self-discover you. Self-discovery gets people to persuade themselves, and research shows this self-discovery approach to be most effective. The bottom line: People believe what they say not what you say.

3. Questions enhance your credibility. They make you look smart, self-confident, interesting and interested in the other person. They give you an opportunity to show your wisdom, expertise and experience without pontificating or running off at the mouth.

How do questions work?

1. We are compelled to answer. There’s something in our makeup as humans that causes a sort of automatic answering reflex when we are asked a question. It’s related to our need for completion. A question is like a joke without a punch line, or the first line of a popular song. It’s incomplete, and the other person starts to fill in the blanks to complete it. That’s what you want.

Warning: The question must be the right kind of question, asked at the right time. Otherwise, you risk invading the prospect’s personal space.

2. Questions stimulate the brain. Using PET scans, researchers have discovered that questions stimulate the new brain or neocortex. Show yourself as safe and genuine first, then ask the right kinds of questions. Do it in that order and you’ll engage the client’s old brain and new brain.

3. Questions get through a person’s mental filters and defense mechanisms. Each of us has a unique set of mental filters through which we see the world and filter incoming information. That information is either retained, deleted or changed. Questions help you increase the odds your messages will get accepted and retained. They accomplish this in two ways:

  • Answers to your questions help you determine the other person’s mental filter configuration so that you can talk in that person’s natural “language.”
  • Questions help you build rapport and trust which directly affect what gets received, and what gets deleted.

Warning: The question must be the right kind of question, asked at the right time. Otherwise, you risk getting deleted.

Make sure to read next week’s Top Tips for the second half of this article, which includes talking about what kinds of questions to ask.

MICHAEL LOVAS is the author of ten books, three columns, and a thousand articles on Professional Credibility and the Psychology of Business Communication. He’s the co-founder of AboutPeople, a firm specializing in business therapy. Contact Michael at: [email protected]. Or call 509.465.5599.