The Worst Kind of Question You Can Ask


Meekness is often misinterpreted as humility.  Indeed many English bibles have incorrectly translated Matthew 5:5 as “Blessed are the Humble”.  While humility is often a trait associated with meekness it’s not the same and to equate the two and use them interchangeably is just wrong.  Meekness, as I have said elsewhere is a willing submission of power, not a surrender or expression of weakness, but a submission, there is a huge difference.  Humility on the other hand, while it may make it easier to express meekness, is not a requirement.

That being said, I have lately begun to notice something in my business dealings that while it may come across as humble, maybe even meek, is far from it and is actually one of the most arrogant and potentially adversarial things you can do in business.  I’m referring of course to the use of rhetorical questions.

We are taught in sales to ask questions to help our prospects build solutions.  But not all questions are created equal.  The way in which we ask questions is critical to the way we are perceived by our prospects.  Learning to ask questions with meekness and humility is the key to building trust and long standing relationships with your prospects.

Consider two questions, designed at least on the surface, to get at the same information.

Question 1 – Can you please explain to me the process you are using now and how it achieves your goals?

Question 2 – Could you get better results if you did things a bit differently?

Question 1 places the listener in a learning posture and gives the prospect the opportunity to explain their position and show off their achievements.  If there are weaknesses in the process they will likely point them out themselves and give you the opportunity to offer solutions.  Question 2 is adversarial and automatically puts the prospect on the defensive.

Question 2 is a rhetorical question.  You ask it already assuming you know the answer.  If the prospect gives you any answer that does not fit with your preconceived solution then your next course of action is to make him look stupid while presenting your smarter option.    That is the height of arrogance.  It assumes you know better than your prospect.  It places you in a position of power and exploits weaknesses that your prospect may not even know, or agree, that he has.   Sales should not be an adversarial, you vs. them, type of relationship.  It’s a process of identifying issues and proposing solutions together.

Asking rhetorical questions never gets you there. Therefore; in the world of business, especially in sales, meekonomist should never ask rhetorical questions.

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