The ancient Greek, Pythagoras, concluded we had a spherical earth almost a thousand years before this became accepted truth. Can you imagine, seriously imagine, where the scientific community would be today, had those years been spent on a different path for scientific discovery?
Can you imagine how many more people you could help, if you no longer had to spend time proving what you already know?
Our problem is that success leads to confidence, and confidence leads to us telling, not asking. You, me, us, I, we…all struggle with this…until we realize it’s us, not them, but us, me, you…
(Related: Wake up, Dave Ramsey: Your math is flawed)
It’s not them, it’s us.
A year or so ago, after giving a speech at an industry conference, I met the question master, Van Mueller. He was very complimentary, but he told me I had lost most of the room. I guess the disagreement was painted on my face. He said, “Mike, do you think people learn more from being taught or being told?” I might being a millennial, barely, but even I knew the correct answer. “They prefer to be taught,” I answered.
The master of questions, spun a web of open-ended questions, never holding himself out as the expert, despite the intentional subversive act of progressing my opinion of him as one (that is a compliment). He walked me through his process which was something like this:
Van Mueller: Did you go to college?
Van Mueller: Can you remember your most favorite, courses or teachers?
This led the conversation into the intimate details, memories, and stories about courses I had enjoyed most. I shared how the most entertaining courses were the ones that had the highest levels of participation and asked the most provoking questions.
Without realizing he had already made his point, the ah-ha moment illuminated, Van Mueller then asked: “Can you imagine how many people you’d help, if you were like those teachers and engaged more — sought participation — asked provoking questions? Wouldn’t you rather make it easier for people to learn what you want them to know?”
In my head, I thought, “Um…do you like getting a stray hair on your tongue (tell me that’s not annoying) …of course I’d rather make the process easier.”
Now to be clear, I wasn’t sold yet on the idea that Van Mueller was right. Our business was growing. I could count on one hand the number of clients that had left us, so, why change?
Even if you’re at the top of your craft, do you think there’s ever a point in life where you can’t get better? Alas, did you notice it? The power of questions.
I wasn’t an early adopter, I’m kind of stubborn, but Van Mueller opened my mind to the concept.
Questions not only engage the listener, but they give the listener permission to proceed. Our office had debated over and over on whether to share an obscure historical reference in the financial industry from 1981. We found the story engaged some clients, but it seemed most were happy when the story was done. They were bored.
One member of our office staff suggested that, instead of going into the story, we try this approach. (I’ll call the client “Bob.”)
Us: Bob, how familiar are you with how our industry, the financial services and insurance services industry, is regulated?”
Bob (usually): Not at all.