Questions Are The Answer

(Listen to this post, here.)

It was a terrific question, and one that I had not anticipated.

I was standing in the Price Chopper supermarket parking lot, talking to Earl, a soft-spoken, older man who had driven down from New Hampshire to consider buying our 2012 Toyota Highlander.

I had just countered his offer, when he paused and asked, “If you were selling this car to a family member, what other things would you fix or tell them about before you did?”

Like I said, a terrific question.

Not only was it unexpected, it turned an impersonal negotiation into an honest conversation about safety and reliability.

Once asked, the only way I could have sidestepped the question would have been to flat out lie.

So, of course I did.

I’m kidding.

Am I? Yes.

I told him the truth: It’s a great car, one that we were only selling because we no longer need a vehicle that seats seven.

Satisfied with my answer, he accepted my offer and we shook (virtually) on the deal.

Questions Are More Powerful Than Answers

As professional service providers, we are in the advice-giving business. All day long, we provide answers.

That’s fine. Ultimately, that’s (mostly) what clients want.

The thing is, because we are so used to telling others what to do, and so eager to demonstrate our value, we have a tendency to (no disrespect) talk and talk and talk.

Particularly when speaking to prospects, we can’t wait to reach the part of the conversation where we get to wow them with the length, width and depth of our experience and knowledge.

I think that’s a mistake. If you jump to answers before asking lots of questions, you’re shortchanging both yourself and your prospective clients.

That’s because…

… good questions provide clarity and focus.

In my experience, prospects typically arrive with a muddy sense of what’s wrong and an even muddier sense of how to fix it. They have a pain (in my world, it’s almost always some flavor of “not enough clients”), but they don’t know how to diagnose it, let alone what to do about it.

Specific, probing questions – What’s not working? How long have you had this problem? How have you tried to fix it yourself? – help the other person see inside their own predicament.

You benefit, too. The more you ask, the more you understand how to customize whatever solution(s) might be needed. When you do finally respond, you can be more specific in your answer (even if the answer is, “I can’t help you”).

… good questions demonstrate how much you know.

When you go to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss the pain in your knee, they don’t just jump right in and begin telling you about the features of their new MRI machine.

Rather, a good doctor asks questions before handing over a diagnosis, many of which may make little sense to you as a non-medical person: Are you left-handed? Have you donated blood recently? By any chance, do you own a small dog?

To you, these may seem random. To the doctor, they are a way of drilling down and getting to the heart of the problem.

The more they ask, the more you realize that you are in the presence of an expert – someone who has seen this problem and others like it, before.

… good questions change the tone of the conversation.

Earl’s simple question and my response to it gave him the confidence to move forward. Good questions are like that – they can change the entire feel of the interaction.

When speaking to a prospective client – even the ones who reach out to you – you have to remember that they are bracing themselves to be “sold to.”

When you invite them to speak first, rather than immediately launching into a long-winded overview of your Six Star Correlatory Optimization Formula, everything changes.

The more you ask, the more they relax. They start having a real conversation with you, instead of simply defending against the always-be-closing onslaught.

Here’s the bottom line.

As professionals, we spend a lot of time fine-tuning the words we use to describe the work we do. It’s almost like a little parlor game we play when we all get together, offering suggestions to each other on which word or phrase might sound better.

All of it’s important – if people don’t understand what you do, they’ll never hire you.

But, when you’re meeting one-on-one with a prospect, talking about yourself is not the place to start.

Instead, ask questions – lots of them. You’ll benefit, your prospect will benefit, and if all goes well, you might even end up with a terrific new, used car to drive home in.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you left-handed?
  2. Have you donated blood recently?
  3. By any chance, do you own a small dog?

If you liked this article you’ll love the next one (I’ve been holding back on the good ones until you subscribe). Click here to sign up for future posts.

28 thoughts on “Questions Are The Answer

  1. Don Kleiner

    Why yes I am left handed. Gave blood last spring (uncommon blood type they pursue me) and no my bird dogs are both over 40 pounds. But they are good looking and mostly obedient. What was the question?

  2. Dave Weir

    1. Yes – all great people are.
    2. A month ago – BTW, what’s the difference between a vampire and a lawyer? A vampire only sucks blood at night.
    3. Small dogs? Pfffft…who wants a small dog. I have two Great Danes, Frank & Phil, that each weight 150lbs. See “My VP’s of Entertainment” in this link

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks for asking, Randy! Not yet. We are locked into the pickleball routine now: tuesdays at 5, play for 90 minutes, jump in the lake across the street to cool off, food/beer after. Definitely has been my COVID highlight activity!

  3. Andre Pilon

    Of course, nobody is perfect!
    Being right-handed is right, too.
    I have bloody good neighbors. Does that count?
    A dog? Nope.

    Coincidence: I’m doing your course on e-Newsletter.
    Great timing and very pertinent example from your client.

    Great questions can/will create that likable effect of someone really listening.
    Relationship first, then content.

    Your course in action, here.

    Thanks, Master Michael.

  4. Bob

    1. No, but I suspect my father was, but his grammar school educators beat it out of him – the left hand being the devils and all that.
    2. I’ve tried but a genetic thing makes my blood unwelcome.
    3. Dog size is relative – mine is 45 pounds which might be considered large unless he’s standing next to a great pyranie.
    4. You didn’t ask, but, my pain is lack of people to listen to their pain. How can you help with that?

  5. Jennifer Cummings

    Not left handed. But I use it a lot so it’s a great 2nd option.
    No blood donation for years. The last time was a nightmare. I need to get over it and go back.
    2 small dogs. But they are Corgis so don’t ever tell them they are small!

  6. Lynn Thomas


    I love this question method.

    I am right-handed but my daughter is left-handed. Appears that on my mom’s side, about 25% of the female grandchildren had left-handed children. Possibly skips a generation.

    No giving of blood because I have a minor blood clotting disorder and have not had a clear answer if my blood is still wanted.

    We have a Shih Tzu Bentley who was supposed to be 8-10 pounds but is 20 pounds. His torso is long. He’s a sweet and funny dog!

  7. Stephanie Patterson

    1. No, but one of my sons is.
    2. I haven’t donated blood for about 30 years. I should get back to it, because I know my type is sought after.
    3. My current dog isn’t small–a lab puppy that’s already 40 pounds and still growing–but for years I had a 15-pound Boston Terrier. She was a great dog except for her snoring. I could never believe that such a small critter could snore so loud.

  8. Jess Fosnough

    1. No, but my brother is.
    2. No – I tried many years ago and they said my veins were too small and that I should drink more water. I have been drinking more water, but haven’t tried to donate again. My dad used to donate pretty regularly, partly because I needed blood very soon after when I was born, and it probably saved my life.
    3. Yes!! My husband and I have a pug and 2 dachshunds. The older dachshund doesn’t realize she is small, though.
    Thanks for the all the insights, Michael!

  9. LJ Miller

    1. No
    2. No…they say I can’t. (Something about a kidney transplant and anemic, I think.)
    3. Yes, an amazing 17-year-old (yup, 17) Shih-Tzu. He is just now starting to realize how small he is. He can’t jump up onto the sofa or the bed anymore. But, he truly expects great service…when he’s ready to get up or down he expects someone to be there ready to help!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Wow! 17 is indeed a log time. I’m way younger in dog years and can’t jump up on the sofa anymore either.

  10. Gina Longo

    1) Like NC State’s Charles Shackleford, I’m amphibious… which hand I use depends on what I’m doing. I eat and write right-handed, but I play several sports left-handed. Other activities? It depends. 😉

    2) I tried not long ago, but I can’t. I was in the UK during the mad cow epidemic a while back, so I’m disqualified. (Feel free to insert mad cow jokes here…)

    3) Small dog? Not on yer life! I’m a German Shepherd girl first, last, and always!

    One previous comment mentioned Corgis, and I do have to admit that Corgis are darn cute, though. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *