The mind is a very logical instrument and tries very hard to predict the next question and therefore “opens files” in anticipation. If the answer to the next question lies in one of these “files”, the question will be answered accurately and with detail. If not, the other person will find the conversation hard going and will not be able to give good answers to your questions. This means that first you must approach the topic with the person and when his mind is on the topic, then ask a question specific to it. You will find this much more rewarding with the answers you receive.
Structure is very important if your questions are going to yield the answers you want. Consider for a moment a filing cabinet. To get to a file you must first open a drawer then select a folder and finally select one file from many in that folder. If you had started out by opening a drawer at random and selecting the first folder you saw, would you find the information you were seeking? Unlikely.
Types of Questions
Most people will identify with two types of questions. Open questions are where the respondent needs to give an answer that is more than a simple yes or no or monosyllabic reply. Good examples may be:
How do you feel about nuclear disarmament?
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
Why would you climb that mountain?
And so on … You should note that these questions begin with How, What and Why. These words typically invite the respondent to talk at length and are great for opening up a conversation (hence “open” questions).
The other form of questions are closed questions and these result in a factual and short response. Good examples are:
How much is that?
What day do you want to meet?
When do you want to go ahead?
Do you want to buy this?
Would you like this delivered?
You will see that all of these questions can be answered with a one word reply that will close the discussion. Most questions that start with How Much, What, When, Do or Would will be closed questions. They do not offer the respondent the opportunity to talk at length.
In most sales training, you are told that open questions are good and closed questions are bad. This is wrong!
Both open and closed questions have their place in any conversation and need to be used in combination to steer you to your desired outcome of the conversation.
Closed questions should be used to take control and direction of the conversation when you feel as though it is going off the topic you want to discuss. Open questions are used to gather information usually. This information could be whether you have something that you can offer them as an organisation or something specific to what you are doing for them.
Open questions are great for getting details however they can sometimes lead to the conversation away from your topic, in this case you should use another closed question to bring it back to what you want.
Using “yes tags”
A “yes tag” is the bit you tag onto the end of a statement that turns it into a question that the other person will answer “yes”. Examples include “isn’t it?”, “don’t you?”, “wouldn’t we?” and so on….
The human conscious mind has two basic emotional states. Positive and negative. They are called many other things, but these are two main conditions that we maintain. It therefore goes without saying that one must be in one or other of these states at any one time – you cannot be both positive and negative at the same moment.
We are going to have a far more productive conversation with someone in a positive state than a negative one – right?
So, how do we ensure that we keep ourselves, and the person that we are talking with, positive? We use “yes tags” on questions and ask questions that we know will be answered “yes”. It does not matter whether the person answers your question out loud as long as you know that it will be being answered somewhere with a yes”.
Remember from above that our goal is to keep the other person positive during our conversation so that they are able to say “yes” when you ask for some commitment. So, to keep them positive have them saying “yes” or other positive statements regularly. Let’s look at some examples:
“Hot today isn’t it?” – notice the “yes tag”
“Do you expect the need for XYZ Service to increase?”
“You would need more staff to do that – wouldn’t you?”
The purpose is not to have a conversation full of these questions, but to include them regularly to ensure that the other person remains in a positive state.