Have you ever wondered why veteran pitch men seem to get their way when they are selling something on TV? Part of their success is their ability to use questions to their advantage even if they are in a largely one-way interaction (i.e. TV audiences can’t really respond to their questions).
Questions have that unique ability to trigger an emotional response from the target or subject. If you say the right questions at the right times, you are bound to succeed in persuading or influencing your subject. Using questions to trigger a specific emotional response in a subject is a good example of covert influence.
One of the main reasons why questions are so effective is the fact that when someone comes up to you to ask something, you can’t really ignore that person’s question. Mentally, we have been conditioned to respond to questions – it is part of the linguistic learning that we have had through the years. To ignore a question would feel very strange indeed.
Studies have also shown that answering questions is actually a part of our automatic/instinctual behavior set. That means we humans are hard-wired to respond – there is no escaping it. A subject will answer regardless of his level of desire or willingness.
Pretty sneaky, isn’t it? Society expects people to answer questions because it is the ‘right thing to do’ in most situations. To ignore a question would be to act rudely and no one likes to be branded a rude person. That’s why people answer questions mentally even if they don’t blurt out their responses. If you can get someone to say yes mentally, that’s enough to get you what you want.
Benefits of using questions
Here are some key advantages of using questions during a social interaction:
Remember how trance states work? When a person is in a trance state, he is focused on something (not necessarily on what you are saying). Asking questions automatically dissolves a subject’s trance state because he is forced to process and respond to the question. So the next time your audience looks bored with what you are saying, you can ‘reset’ the interaction by asking a series of questions to help your audience focus on what you really want to say.
When you ask questions, your subject becomes a little defensive, which buys you a little time to plan ahead. As long as you don’t taunt your audience just because you want them to feel defensive, a little defensiveness probably won’t hurt your interaction. Asking big questions like “what do you really want to achieve?” can buy you a lot of time.
Asking questions gives your audience the opportunity to directly interact with you. Let’s face it – people love to hear themselves talk. It’s natural for people to want to speak because we are social creatures. If you allow your subject to respond to his heart’s content (as long as the response is still part of what you had in mind), your subject will feel as though you are a partner or ally.
Asking questions also kindle interest. By asking thought-provoking questions, you can easily grab your subject’s attention again and again.
If the subject is still not buying what you are saying, you can draw out any objections out in the open by asking a series of questions. Objections can be dealt with easily if you know how to ask questions.
Questions also speed up the process of convincing people that you are offering the logical choice. Since people will be forced to answer strategically crafted questions, answers can be anticipated and can be used to the next set of questions, and so on.
Asking the right questions
Here are some guidelines that will help you create questions that will create a strong impact on your audience:
Ask questions that will logically lead to one fixed answer. Don’t ask general and open questions that might lead to confusion. So if you are trying to sell an idea to your manager, try asking a question that appeal to his sense of efficiency like “would you want something that will make every team member work more efficiently than before?” The logical answer to this question would be “yes” because saying “no” would be tantamount to saying that one loves inefficiency.
Ask questions that can readily be answered by your subject. While it sometimes feels good to ask questions that can only be answered by you, this approach can actually alienate your subject. We don’t want to alienate our subjects. We don’t want them to feel disconnected and overly defensive. We want them to share what they know in such a way that it would support our cause. That is how you will ultimately influence others.
Ask leading questions whenever possible. A leading question is simply a statement that has been transformed into a question that can be answered by a yes or no. Your questions can be answered by a yes or no, depending on what you want the subject to think in the first place.
Don’t forget to add that emotional impact to your questions. For example, if you want the subject to buy a new house, try asking questions like “How happy would your kids be when they finally have a place of their own where they can rest, learn and have fun all they want?” Emotional triggers are more powerful than logical triggers because a person would readily act upon an emotional response. Logic and rationalism are somewhat subdued compared to emotions.
You can close deals more easily by using choice questions. A choice question doesn’t really give the subject a choice because in any case, he will be agreeing with what you are saying. Here’s an example: “When would you like me to ship this case of new shirts, tomorrow or Monday next week?” The question itself appears as if the subject has a choice but in reality, he doesn’t.