During crucial conversations, such as sales calls, negotiations or high-stakes internal meetings, there is one dramatically misused tool: questions.

People know asking questions is important but are unspecific in execution. Questions become obligatory preamble before saying what's planned, which renders them impotent and annoying. Ineffective probing creates huge missed opportunities.

Questions change outcomes because they allow you to operate with flexibility, in direct relationship to obstacles. We recently trained a sales team who started closing bigger deals once they used questions more effectively.

So, how do you do it?

Picture a vine growing along a city building. It sends out feelers to learn about its environment. It doesn’t get mad when an object blocks its path. It grows around and through it. It literally turns obstacles into footholds to propel growth in its desired direction.

This metaphor offers the secret to effective probing: ask to learn. The truth can not hurt you. The more you know, the more strategically you can respond. Although this feels obvious, it’s very hard to do. 

3 Keys to Effective Probing

  1. Prepare. Create a list of questions before crucial conversations. Think through what you specifically want to learn with each question. In the moment, you may think of other questions, but preparation gives you a solid starting place.
  2. Goldfish Brain. Just as a goldfish forgets everything it knows after 8 seconds, picture everything you think you know about the other’s point of view and then actively forget it. Huge misunderstandings occur when we make assumptions. The more neutral you can enter a conversation, the more you will be able to learn.
  3. Uncover Opportunity. Learn what matters to them and consider how you can articulate your goal in a way that solves their problem or furthers their intention. Questions are the key to uncovering the classic “win win” in business relationships.