Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others

by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas

“You’ve heard about people who talk too much. You never heard about a person who listens too much.”

Power Questions is about the productive use of questions in a variety of contexts. Co-authors Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas are experts on client loyalty and fundraising, respectively.

“The need to be heard turns out to be one of the most powerful motivating forces in human nature… There is nothing more potent than these four words: What do you think?”

“If you do all the talking, you learn nothing about the person… You will not build their trust… You will squander an opportunity to build the foundations for a rich, long-term relationship.

Sometimes a question will make the other person stop and think. “Never, ever interrupt a productive silence!”

In sales, intelligent questions are essential. But weak questions can damage credibility. “’What keeps you up at night?’ is a terrible question. First, it’s a shot in the dark… It’s also a question that requires no preparation… Second, if someone doesn’t already know you pretty well, they are probably not going to tell you what is really on their mind… The great salespeople ask indirect questions that show they know their stuff. They say things like… ‘How is your push into Asian markets going to impact your financial controls and risk management requirements?’”

An effective follow-up question could be as simple as, “Really? Can you tell me more?”

“A buyer is created when a clear need is identified, a trusting relationship is established, and the value is demonstrated. The most successful salespeople in the world create these conditions by asking great questions.”

Questions can make meetings more productive.  “Start creating a culture of decisiveness.” At the start of each meeting, ask “What is the purpose of this meeting?” or “What decisions do we want to make today?”

Ask questions to resolve complaints or disputes. “When a person is upset… emotions are like facts. People want to be heard and understood. Rational argumentation will not win the day. Worse, it will inflame the tension. When there is a disagreement, your goal is to win the relationship, not the argument! During the first phase of any crisis or problem situation, you must lead with questions. By doing so you will learn essential information and—most importantly—create an ally in solving the problem.”

Leaders can ask empowering questions. “If their employees come up with the answer—if they feel ownership of it—there is a good chance it will bear fruit… Answers make you feel like a leader, but questions create real followers.”

“Good questions challenge your thinking. They reframe and redefine the problem. They throw cold water on our most dearly held assumptions, and force us out of our traditional thinking. They motivate us to learn and discover more.”

Sobel, Andrew, and Jerold Panas. Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2012. Buy from Amazon.com