The Art of Listening and Asking Questions

by Michael Oliver

We all have our own perspective on what's true for us. This reality can hinder communication, especially in prospecting conversations, except if you know how to ask the right questions.

Below is a dialogue that took place at one of my recent Natural Selling mini-workshop. I will show you how to help people question their assumptions and beliefs - especially if you detect from what they are saying that there might be another truth they might not be aware of.

It's possible to do this without having to resort to objection-handling techniques.

At the end of the workshop one of the attending heads of department commented, "This is great stuff, Michael, but in the real world, and especially in this culture, it's not going to work!"

Before you read any further, can you tell which two phrases gave me clues as to what to respond to?

They were "real world" and "it's not going to work." Did you spot them?

My next question to you: did you interpret his comment as:

  • An objection to be dealt with, or...
  • An observation (based on his present experience and knowledge) to be explored?

Answer: It was merely an observation… which he was entitled to express it.

And I am not entitled to tell him he's wrong by treating his remark as an objection, just because I happen to know that my Natural Selling approach does work. Weighing in with a healthy dose of standard objection-handling treatment would most certainly cause him to dig his heals in even more.

Instead, I heard his comment ring in my ear as the sound of opportunity! It was an opportunity to be able to find out:

  • What he meant and ...
  • Whether what he meant had any solid foundation.

My next goal was to help him challenge his own belief, and demonstrate clearly how the Natural Selling approach works with anyone.

This is how I responded:

"When you say real world, can I ask whose world are you referring to?"

"Well… the real world. I meant this is great in theory, but we have to deal with the realities of the market place."

"Yes, I can appreciate that, though again, when you say real world, whose world are you talking about?"

"The world we have to deal with in this environment of having to move quickly, of letting people know about our services as quickly as we can …"

"Okay! I'd like to ask the question again, whose real world are you talking about?"

"I guess it's my real world, the world I have to work in. Ask anyone here about the pressures we face everyday…"

"I can also appreciate that… and you agree then it's really your world and your perspective on things that you're talking about, as opposed to perhaps the world of others and how they might see it?"

"Yes, that's true."

"So it's possible then that there could be other ways of approaching people that could perhaps more effectively achieve the results you're looking for?"

"Okay, I can see where you're going… So what you're saying is that I need to stay open to other ideas and not let my present ones cloud my judgment."

"Actually, I didn't say that at all... you just did! See how this works?"

"I'm beginning to, yes!"

"Also, if you would allow me to address another statement you made, namely 'it's not going to work.' I'd like to ask you, have you done what I'm talking about?"


"Then, with all due respect, how do you know it's not going to work?"

"I don't, so perhaps I need to stay open to it. Okay, I'll stay open to it."

"Thank you."

And he did. He became a very strong advocate of what was being taught.

Now why did this happen? Here are some reasons to consider:

  • He felt treated with respect. He returned the gesture by treating me with respect.
  • His answers to my questions helped him question his assumptions and beliefs.
  • I responded by addressing the real issues, stayed with the real issues, and helped him quietly challenge his beliefs through the art of asking questions, listening, and responding.

His is the kind of comment to be relished and to be prepared for, because great opportunities lie here.

But these opportunities won't arise for you if you resort to the standard objection-handling techniques and try to persuade someone of your point of view.

A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.

Do you think the gentleman would be an enthusiastic advocate of Natural Selling if I had convinced him I was right after an adversarial struggle? Highly unlikely.

This dialogue is a great example of what I mean by allowing people to persuade themselves.

Practice the art of asking questions, listening, and responding. You'll be delighted to discover how easy it is to achieve the results you want.

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