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The Green SheetGreen Sheet

The Green Sheet Online Edition

May 14, 2012 • Issue 12:05:01

Book Review
Harnessing the power of questions

When was the last time you evaluated the questions you ask people in the course of a day? Have you ever considered how that factor alone - the questions you choose to ask - can have astounding effects on your relationships?

In Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others, authors Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas illustrate what a difference asking the right question in the right context can make in your career and life.

Most of the book's concise chapters begin with a true story illustrating the type of question covered in that chapter. Then the authors discuss the reasons why the question was effective in the story's context. Ending each chapter are suggestions for how readers can use similar questions themselves.

No more digging holes

In one example, Sobel recounted a presentation he gave as a new partner in a consulting firm. When the potential client said, "Tell us a bit about yourselves," Sobel went into great detail about his firm's stellar attributes. About 30 minutes later, with the presentation finally done, he and his colleagues were met with silence. Then one of the client's executives grabbed her appointment book, thanked them and said she had to run to another meeting. Soon they were escorted out without having won the account.

Later, Sobel went on a sales call with a senior partner in the firm. The prospect asked, "Why don't you start by telling us about your firm?" The partner paused and then asked, "What would you like to know about us?" Then he was silent.

The client replied, "Well, we are of course broadly familiar with what you do. I'd like to understand in particular what your capabilities are in Asia, and also how you work together internally."

The partner said he was curious and asked the prospect to say more about "working together internally." An interactive, engaged conversation ensued - and they got the job. The lesson learned: If someone says, "Tell me about your company," get them to be more specific. Ask, "What would you like to know about us?"

Getting to the heart

Sobel noted that some meetings are akin to male gorillas engaged in battle. "They circle each other, and circle again, and again. In the process, they rake their hands in the dirt, scooping up handfuls that when thrown in the air make quite a dust storm. This is Gorilla Dust. Nothing decisive happens."

So, next time you're meeting with someone who is throwing Gorilla Dust around, don't ask an open-ended question; ask a closed-ended question to force a decision, Sobel advised. For example, ask, "Is it a yes or a no?"

A final section of the book provides 293 additional power questions, categorized by the types of situations in which they would be applicable, such as when you want to win new business, hold effective first meetings, understand aspirations and goals, discuss a proposal, coach and mentor others, or resolve a crisis or complaint.

The book promises that if you put the questions it contains to use, you will "connect more deeply with your clients, drive quickly to the heart of problems, and unlock your professional and personal influence in unexpected and delightful ways."

Sounds worthwhile, doesn't it? end of article

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