Seek First To Understand - Why Questions Are So Important In Prospect/Client Relationships

In a previous NLP post, I wrote about the 'map not being the territory'. In this post, I want to talk about how effective questioning can help you align your 'map' as closely as possible with the 'territory' - in other words, how effective use of questions can help you properly understand what is going on in a prospects' mind or situation.




How much to you let your 'map' affect your ability to interpret the 'territory'? As mentioned in a previous NLP post, your map is based on your experience, understanding and viewpoint of the world (territory) around you.

Others' maps may share common boundaries or landmarks, but they will still vary to greater or lesser extents from your own. One route that may naturally lead to a destination for you will not necessarily lead to the same place for another.

This does not mean that you completely disregard your own map though. Taking this to the extreme would mean a complete loss of all bearings - a situation which would only leave you and your client completely adrift. So, when and how do you bring your own map into play?

Effective Questioning Will Help You Provide More Useful And Relevant Information

Imagine that a friend of yours is visiting you in your home town, but they seem to have lost their way. What do you do? Do you start by telling them which landmarks to look out for? Do you tell them where to find the local 'A' road, or where your house is?

Surely, if you actually want them to reach their destination you would begin by asking them where they are. What can they see that might help you better direct them along the safest and easiest route? You would continue questioning until you were certain you knew where they were and were confident that you could give them some useful advice.

In this scenario, you have plenty of information that is useful to your friend, but it is only when you understand where they are coming from that this information can be properly applied. Similarly with your clients and prospects, you may have a wealth of knowledge that can be used by them, although you have to understand the best way of applying this knowledge before it is useful. It's a matter of asking relevant, meaningful questions to determine where this information should be used.

As well as the quality of your questions, give consideration to the quantity. Have you really understood the answer? Is there an element of presupposition involved here? How many times has your friend said. 'I'm just by the church', only to find that it's the wrong church.

Make Sure You Have Really Understood

Using the knowledge you have about your clients and prospects, draw up a list of questions that will hep you expand on it in ways that might form connections between you. Before asking these questions, consider one or two other valuable principles:

  • Number One: 'Seek first to understand, then to be understood' (Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
  • Number Two: 'Really listen, rather than just wait to speak.'

You should certainly avoid planning in your mind the next question you are going to ask - this defeats the object of the initial questions and can easily be spotted by the person answering the questions.

Allow these principles to guide you when determining your next steps. Have you really understood? Have you really listened? The answers to these questions may tell you that you need to probe further in order to gain a better understanding. They may prompt you to offer advice or to even pitch a solution.

This advice is also relevant in situations where a client has approached you for information or advice. In some case, this is where some naturally 'pushy' sales people take to questioning like a duck to water. They seem to have the inquisitiveness of a child. Even when a client approaches you it is still vital to know what it is that attracts them so you can maximise on that interest.

In Sum

Questions are always powerful. Look back over this article - how many questions do you see sprinkled amongst the advice and suggestions? Although the context is different, hopefully you have been able to see what an impact the art of questioning has on any form of communication and how you can implement it in your relationships with your clients and prospects.

You might also find these posts useful:

-  Questioning techniques for sales
-  NLP - the map is not the territory

Thanks for reading,

By Alan MacDougall