The Gentle Art of Asking

Every day we ask for help. It could be as simple as asking for a referral or it could be as complicated as asking a broker to join your franchise.  Either way the ask not only depends on what you ask, but more importantly how you ask it.

In Edgar Schein’s book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013), he shares the process of influencing others depending on the level of trust that exists in any given relationship and gives concrete examples of the type of questions you might ask in each case. These apply in all areas of business, personal situations, and every day conversations.

Are you close enough to ask the big questions? Credit: Alejandro Escamilla, Unsplash

Are you close enough to ask the big questions? Credit: Alejandro Escamilla/Unsplash

I’ve laid out the four types of questions that Schein defines below. Let’s explore each one in detail and see how it relates to your real estate business. That will help us figure out the most appropriate time to use them.

Humble Inquiry

When trust has not been established yet, it’s important to ask yourself, “How can we get the other person to share what’s on their mind in their words, not ours?”  Questions like, “What is happening with you” or “go on; tell me more” express a sincere desire to learn what the other person is thinking rather than assuming you know their issues and exactly what they need. Humble inquiry is ideal for initiating conversations with customers, building relationships at networking events, and deciding if/how you can help the other person.

Diagnostic Inquiry

Now that you have a general sense of who the person is and what they would like to communicate, you can dig a little deeper. But not too deep! You might not have established a strong enough foundation of trust yet. Ask, “Why do you feel that way” or “what do you think caused that to happen?” Here you want to keep the other person talking by asking a question that allows them to share their issue in more detail.

Process-Oriented Inquiry

Once you have developed some rapport with the other person you can then ask process-oriented questions that involve your role into the mix.  Let’s say a customer asks, “How much should I price my house for?” You could reply, “What answers do you want to know from me about pricing your home?”  This way you can keep them talking and in some cases they will answer their own question simply because you asked them to share it with you.

Confrontational Inquiry

Starting off a conversation with a seller with: “If you couldn’t get $XXX,XXX for your house today in 30 days, would you still sell it?” won’t be as effective unless you have an existing relationship or you took the time to build trust properly over time. The time to consult with a client is when you have earned the right to consult. Be careful about using confrontational questions too soon otherwise it might jeopardize the sale, and more importantly, the potential relationship.

So now I have a question for you: Which end of the question spectrum do you use most when communicating with clients? Are you overly confrontational, or do you stay in the humble safe zone even after establishing a steady rapport?

Doug Devitre

Companies bring in Doug Devitre, CSP, when they want to improve sales and marketing using the latest technology with quantifiable metrics. He is a member of the National Association of REALTORS® Business Specialties Hall of Fame and earned the Certified Speaking Professional award, which is bestowed upon the top 10 percent of professional speakers worldwide. His new book, Screen to Screen Selling—published by McGraw Hill and available in October 2015—helps executives and sales managers increase sales, productivity, and customer experience without being physically present.

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