To Question or Not to Question? That’s the Question!

To question or not to question? That’s the question! I recently had an uncomfortable discussion about politics. Although conventional wisdom is to steer clear of sex, politics and religion, it’s hard to avoid politics with a presidential election only months away.
Believe me, talking about sex would have been much more fun and less confrontational
than what I experienced.

During the course of the discussion a family member who is very well read and very smart asked me lots and lots of questions. Not having the passion for the subject, nor the desire to do the
in-depth reading on the various topics involved, I didn’t know the answers to the barrage of questions that came my way.
Frustrated I finally said, “Don’t ask me anymore questions you clearly know I don’t know the answer to. If you have something you want to tell me, just tell me.” Moments later came more
questions to which I replied, “You did it again. I told you I wouldn’t know the
answers so what would you like to tell me?”
Apart from understanding the
principles of influence, a couple of key components to being a master persuader
are knowing your audience and how best to engage them.
My family member clearly wanted to persuade me to see things from his viewpoint with the goal of getting me to
vote for his candidate. Despite his many facts, figures and detailed arguments I’m willing to bet he’s not very successful in his efforts with people because he doesn’t get the human element of persuasion. You see, everyone isn’t as logical and well read as he is but he operates as if they are. The reality is, people are not rational beings and like it or not, you have to understand how others think and what’s important to them if you want to persuade them.
For example, if someone is unemployed, then the economy is probably #1 for them because they want to get a
job. Give them a candidate who can make that happen and they’ll likely vote for him. Talking about military spending, health care, etc., aren’t  going to press the unemployed person’s hot button. That’s analogous to the salesperson who feels the need to tell you about every detail of a car when all you care about is good gas mileage and a sporty look.
The real crux of this post however is about questions in the persuasion process. When you attempt to persuade someone, good questions can be a tremendous help but only if used correctly.
Questions that open people up to share their past experiences, thoughts, feelings and values can be useful because they tap into the principle of consistency. This principle of influence tells us people feel internal and external psychological pressure to remain consistent in what they say and do. If I tell you the economy is most important to me then you can tailor your conversation to show why your candidate might be the best choice. The same could be said of any other topic related to the election. Get to know what matters to someone then you can speak to those issues.
However, when multiple questions are asked that people can’t answer, how do you think that makes them feel? I bet many of you are thinking of words like stupid, dumb or ignorant. Asking people
questions about your area of expertise might make you feel smart but it also can make other people feel ignorant. Do you think people appreciate being made to feel ignorant? Of course not. Do you think people feel compelled to take your side or do what you want after you’d make them feel stupid? Absolutely not.
And such is the case sometimes with intellectuals who lack the ability to read people and adjust their
communications accordingly. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if people can’t
understand you or if your communication style repels them. My relative isn’t alone in this by any means. I’ve seen countless people “shoot themselves in the foot,” so to speak, during their attempts to persuade people because they miss the human element.
Several years ago I wrote a series of blog posts on persuading personality types. Based on results I collected
from an online survey, it was clear you don’t persuade the Donald Trump (pragmatic) personality the same way you might the Oprah Winfrey (expressive), Sandra Bullock (amiable), or Albert Einstein (analytical). Master persuaders recognize the differences and adjust their communication accordingly.
To question or not to question? That’s really is the question! If you take the wrong approach you’ll do nothing except alienate people and hurt your chances to win them over. However, done the right way sometimes it can be far easier than you ever imagined. Pay close
attention next time and make the necessary adjustments if you want to enjoy more success.

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

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