Back during the pre-recession days, globalization and the boom made it seem as if there would never be a shortage of business. All that bounty led us to take our clients for granted as we believed that prosperity would never end. Now, says author and consultant Andrew Sobel in his new book “Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others,” the old-fashioned “trusted relationship” is back in style.
“In this post-Madoff era of unpredictability and suspicion, people are looking for deeper, more intimate and more engaged relationships—the kind that reduce risk,” explains Sobel. “When times are tough and the future is uncertain, people want to put down roots and partner with people they truly like and trust.” Trust is the new litmus test, according to Sobel. And we can create trust not by knowing the right answers but by knowing the right questions.
Sobel says that asking clients questions and prompting them to consider things they perhaps have not considered before is a far more effective technique than forcefully stating your own position and trying to talk them into seeing things your way. “Telling creates resistance. Asking creates relationships.” And builds trust.
“When a relationship is all business and there is no real personal connection, it lacks heart and soul,” says Sobel. “And therefore you are a commodity—a kind of fungible expert-for-hire. A client—or your boss—can trade you out for a new model with no remorse or emotion.” But questions make the client the focus of the conversation. That’s why one of Sobel’s power questions is What do you think? Another is Can you tell me more?
In the book, Sobel describes an anecdote about a 19th century woman who was fortunate to meet two great British statesmen, Gladstone and Disraeli. “When asked to compare the two men she says, ‘After my dinner with Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in the world.’ And then she adds, ‘After my dinner with Mr. Disraeli, I felt as though I were the cleverest woman in all of England!’ ”