Why the Best Question Is the One You Never Ask

    

Questions are universally known as necessary mechanisms to gather information from another party. 

Although this still rings true to a certain extent, it is not as if you can ask any old question and get the results you’re looking for. You have to ask the right questions, and you have to ask them in the right order.

And, believe it or not, when you master the The Black Swan Method™, you can find the answers you need without even asking questions at all.

asking the right questions

Don’t Ask Any Question, Ask Calibrated Questions™

It’s not always about what you ask. It’s about how you ask it.

At Black Swan, we’re big believers in the power of Calibrated Questions™, which are questions that begin with what and how—and sometimes why. When you ask the right Calibrated Questions, your counterpart will have no choice but to reveal more information.

Although what questions are designed to uncover challenges and obstacles, how questions focus on implementation and bring candid feedback about execution to the surface. 

On the other hand, why questions are Proof of Life™ questions: Why do you want to do business with us? Depending on the robustness of their response, you should be able to figure out if the other side is interested in doing business with you or if they’re just doing their due diligence and have another solution in mind.

In general, we’re not advocates for asking questions completely on their own. If you’re planning to lean on Calibrated Questions throughout a negotiation, you need to set the stage with an Accusations Audit™. By defusing the negatives that are likely harbored by the other side, your questions will land much more easily.

Would it hurt to increase your influence? Read this guide to become a more  effective salesperson »

Embrace the Bundle of Three

Not to be confused with the Rule of Three—which speaks to getting three solid forms of confirmation before you know you have a deal—the Bundle of Three is all about asking the same question three different times in three different ways to ignite the other side’s thought process.

Most people screw this up by asking three different questions. Asking more than one question pulls the other side’s thought process in too many different directions, so rather than answering the question you want them to answer, they tend to answer whichever one they’re most comfortable with.

But you can’t paint with broad brushstrokes when you’re trying to focus the human brain. Here’s what asking the same Calibrated Questions three different times looks like:

  • What is the biggest challenge you face?
  • How do you naturally handle challenges?
  • What is the biggest thorn in your side as a result of your current processes?

On its own, the first question might not resonate because your counterpart might not think in terms of challenges. The follow-up question gets them to think it through a little more. And the third question gets them to think more deeply about the subject at hand—everyone has a universal understanding of cliches.

Stop Asking Questions Altogether

People think that asking the right questions is the only way you’ll uncover Black Swans and the other information you need to make the deal.

One of my passions is to completely change this narrative: What if I told you that it is possible to bring hidden information to the surface without asking any questions at all? 

When you go into a negotiation thinking you’re going to have to ask questions, you’re taking an arrogant approach. You’re making an assumption about your counterpart when you might not know much about them. 

Long-time Black Swan readers know about the three negotiator types. In our experience, Analysts actually hate being asked questions. These individuals have spent all of their time prepping data and analyzing every angle of the deal, and the last thing they want is to be put on the spot and forced to answer a question they’re not ready for.

When asked why they don’t like questions, one of our Analyst clients told us this: “I don’t have enough time to think up an answer to your question that I will not regret later.” 

So, when you go into a negotiation with an Analyst and ask them questions, they are likely to retreat into a defensive position or withdraw completely.

Is it worth putting one-third of your deals in jeopardy?

The Power of Asking Labels™ 

If you’re not supposed to ask questions, then what are you supposed to do? 

It’s simple: Use Asking Labels™ instead. You can turn any question that pops into your mind into an Asking Label.

Instead of asking your counterpart what is holding them back, say this—It seems like there is something holding you back—using an upward inflection at the end to achieve the same effect as a question.

All of a sudden, you start to sound much more conversational, and the floodgates open up.

Take our word for it: Asking Labels are the key to unlocking truth talk.

If you think that not asking questions to get the business outcomes you’re hoping for is the only unusual tactic we teach, think again. To continue your journey, check out our free guide: 7 Unexpected Ways to Increase Sales.

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Brandon Voss

About The Author

Brandon Voss is the President of The Black Swan Group. Brandon has been instrumental in adapting the FBI’s hostage negotiation techniques to the business world. In addition to training clients, Brandon has guest lectured at USC Marshall School of Business and Georgetown McDonough School of Business.