You’ve been in one of those awkward conversations where an idea is put on the table but it goes nowhere, haven’t you? You know, when the conversation becomes stilted or there are embarrassed mumbles or a stony silence.
Kerrie, the Australian Sales Manager, has an idea and she needs buy-in from her boss, the Global Head of Sales and Marketing. She arranges a meeting with him. After making her pitch she waits for a response. The tension feels uncomfortable for both Kerrie and her boss. Neither is sure where the conversation is going or what to say next.
What could Kerrie do differently to have the conversation flow easily, that will put herself in a better position to achieve her intended outcome and that will get her boss’ buy-in to her idea?
He Who Questions Is He Who Controls!
Think about the following types of interactions and which of the two roles is in the driver’s seat— managing, guiding and controlling the conversation?
- The detective or the suspect?
- The barrister or the witness?
- The doctor or the patient?
The detective, barrister and doctor are in control because they’re the ones asking questions, right?
So let’s rewind history and give Kerrie another shot at making her pitch…
“Hi boss, how concerned are you about the results of the retail sales channel?…
Can I tell you about an idea I have to help turn it around?…
I suggest that we xyz and then abc.
What do you like and not like about my suggestion?”
By adding questions to her formula Kerrie has taken charge of the direction of the conversation—and of the likelihood of her achieving her intended outcome, getting buy-in from her boss.
How To Manage The Direction Of Your Conversation With Questions
When you have a clear outcome for a conversation, you’re the one who needs to take the conversation forward and manage the path along which the dialogue travels.
You can’t let it be pilotless and you can’t afford to let the other person be the conductor.
I therefore propose that you think of your conversation as being a series of short paragraphs—short paragraphs with a question at the end of each paragraph.
It’s these questions that’ll influence where your conversation goes and what you achieve. They’ll be like a rudder, guiding the conversation towards your intended outcome.
Questions? What Questions?
When it comes to having influential conversations, there are two types of questioning techniques that’ll serve you well…
1. Question forward—
You ask a question to take the conversation forward in the direction of your targeted outcome:
“Shall I tell you what I think is a good next step?”
“Do you want me to say more about that?”
“Do you want to say anything or shall I continue?”
“How concerned are you about the results of the retail sales channel?…
“Can I tell you about an idea I have to help turn it around?…
2. Check back questions—
You ask a question to check the other person’s reaction to what you’ve just said, to see if they’re on the same page, to ensure they’re receptive to your message and to progressing the conversation.
“What’s your reaction to that?”
“Are you good with what I’ve said so far?”
“What are your thoughts about that?”
“How do you feel about it?”
“Is there enough of a win for you in this?”
“What do you like and not like about this thinking?”
“What do you like and not like about my suggestion?”
Your Leadership Call To Action
Ask more questions.
Use questions to find out what the other person thinks and how they feel. And use questions to manage the direction of your conversations.
Think of your conversation as being a series of short paragraphs—with either a “question forward” or a “check back question” at the end of each.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Carolyn Stevens has worked with leaders for more than 25-years—hundreds of them.
She’s supported leader after leader (including those who previously struggled to confront the difficult, let alone persuasively deal with the it) flourish—and become confident, courageous and impressively influential.
Carolyn is authentic and results-oriented. She draws on an eclectic array of approaches, tools and techniques to suit the situation.