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A Question Is More Powerful Than A Statement!

by David Brock on March 25th, 2011

There are few sales professionals that would argue with “A question is more powerful than a statement.”  I’ve spent a lot of time at this blog, and there are hundreds of other articles on the power of great questions in sales.  It helps us understand the customer, it helps them know that we are concerned about them and want to understand what they are trying to achieve.  It aligns us and bonds us to the customer.  It’s critical for our effectiveness as sales professionals.  Until we understand what they need, what they are trying to achieve, we can’t agree on solutions that accelerate their ability to achieve their goals.

So we all “get” the power of questions.

But then, let’s look at our behaviors as managers—yes this is actually an article about leadership and performance management.  If questioning is such a cornerstone to our effectiveness in connecting with customers, wouldn’t questioning also be a cornerstone to our effectiveness in coaching and developing our people?

There seems to some sort of inherent logic to this, but too often our behaviors as managers is exactly the opposite—we tend to be in “tell mode.”  We are directive, we don’t have the time to understand what a person is doing, why they are doing it.  We don’t try to understand what drives them, but instead tend to be prescriptive.

Our people are no different than customers, they don’t want to be told, they don’t want to be dictated to.  They want to be engaged in a conversation, they want us to understand their views, they want to express their opinions.  Until we ask (and observe), we don’t understand the underlying factors that influence the behaviors, actions and results.  Our people aren’t producing the results we want, is it lack of knowledge or skill, is it a misunderstanding of expectations, is it something else?  Without engaging our people in a conversation, without questioning to understand, we’re just shooting in the dark.

Our jobs as leaders and managers is to help our people achieve the highest levels of performance possible.  We do this by providing clear strategies, visions and directions, by establishing goals, by putting in place processes, tools, systems, and training to facilitate our people in executing their responsibilities.  We are responsible for coaching, tutoring, correcting, and developing our people. We are responsible for doing everything possible to make sure they have internalized and own the same performance expectations we have of them.  We are responsible for providing feedback on their performance and working with them in establishing a plan to improve it.

It seems to me, all of this is accomplished much more effectively by starting with questions rather than statements.

If it works with customers, it stands to reason that it should work with our people.  What do you think?

Retrospective:  As I reread this post and the values I am espousing, I just caught the irony of my title.  Perhaps I should have titled this post “Are questions more powerful than statements?”   Oh well–do as I say, not as I do  😉

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  1. David, this is a helpful perspective. And mostly I agree. I think though to the extent that a leader is trusted and a leader is respected then the need for questions or statements is less clear.

    The higher the trust- the more accepting the listener to a statement or clear direction. (Think about attending a Zig Ziglar seminar- we hang on every statement) . Will questioning build that trust with our charges or customers? Not sure every time.

    Sometimes I think our charges ( and ourselves) need to be open to “being told what to do”. – Sometimes “outside in” ( ie doing the behaviour and the learning becomes clearer) works better than overt discovery as blasphemous as that sounds.

    I think the same applies ( gasp!) to customers at times. Questions can be overrated ( and taxing, and too prying ( which raises tension)) etc.

    You make me think every time I read your Posts David- thank you.


    • Mark, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think what we are both saying is that we really want to move to conversations and dialogues. The higher the level of trust, the more easy it is to engage in a conversation. Questions cannot be used exclusively, nor can statements. Balance must be achieved and/or the approach most appropriate for the situation, time, and individual should be considered.

      You really make outstanding and thoughtful contributions to this blog–it makes me raise the standard by which I perform. Thanks for taking the time to comment and the very flattering–yet humbling compliment. I really appreciate it.

  2. Col Virendra Kumar permalink

    I really found the entire blog very interesting, the way I understood it that it should be the dialogue between the Sales Manager and his team rather that monologue in which Sales Manager just dictates what is to be done and probably even, how it has to be done.It is possible to achieve the results through this approach also provided the market dynamics is static, which is not possible,hence as a Sales Manager , job is defined the way , it has been defined in this nice blog.Yes, communication between the Sales Manager and his team has to be precise and to the point, Sales Manager has to be very clear about the vision , strategy and goals of the company and it is his job that it is communicated to the team in the language that they understand.Now he has to watch , carry out course correction whenever and where ever it is required,guide and mentor the team members as per individuals requirement,provide the training if required and fill up the gaps in terms of systems and processes. I am sure results will be outstanding and targets will be achieved. In the entire process feedback from the market and individuals should flow smoothly.If the trust level between the Sales Manager and his team is good, feedback should flow automatically.Sales meterics should substantiate the subjective observations to provide objective reality to the feedback.

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