It was Socrates offering sage wisdom when he taught: “Never lead with statements when you can lead with questions.” Simple but profound wisdom, but difficult both to remember and implement. Why? Because all of us have so much we feel we need and want to say. And, human nature being what it is, we warm to the sound of our own voice.
Asking questions has nothing to do with any voyeuristic curiosity we have about the people we serve. Questions that are gratuitous or disingenuous come across flat and will not advance your relationships with others. By the same token, thoughtful questions, asked at the right time in the right way, open windows allowing fresh air to invigorate an otherwise stale conversation.
Here are some of the keys to use questions well. First, master these basic six questions and play around with voicing them in other ways.
- What is the primary financial driver in your life?
- Tell me how you came to that position, conclusion, or point-of-view?
- What are the fears/feelings/concerns you have about the future?
- Can you tell me what age 70, or 80, or 90 might look like for you and (if married) your spouse?
- You are a successful person. Can you tell me the biggest failure in your life and what it taught you?
- If money were not a factor, how would you spend the rest of your life?
Why these six? All six have dozens of possible answers without any one of them being right or wrong. They are open-ended, non-threatening, and convey to your client your desire to know them at a deeper, more profound level.
Second, listen to the answers with more heart than head, but keep your head in the game. “That’s very profound or interesting or insightful or helpful (you pick the word).” Then ask, “How is this perspective informing how you do life or how you are handling this concern?” Following an answer with another question keeps the other person talking and you learning. Anytime I have felt unsure about another person’s issue, feelings, or fears, following a first question with a second clarifies my confusion and brings greater focus to what may follow.
Last, etch into your mind this client’s perspectives and benchmark the conversation. Money issues are hardwired to emotions. One of the highest compliments a client can pay us is “You are the first person who has really heard me on this issue.” Interpretation? “You captured my feelings as well as my words.”
Lead with questions. Keep the other person talking. Learn all you can both with head and heart. Make questions a practice standard and watch your practice grow.