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Dianna Booher shares tips on communication skills and the importance of asking questions

Parents do it. Salespeople do it. Consultants do it. Spouses do it. Executives do it. That is, they lead and persuade by questioning. Do these snippets of conversation sound familiar?

Boss coaching employee, framing benefits this way: 

–– “Do you think your career could benefit from exposure to this training?”

––“How would our customers react to our offer to provide the service at no charge—do you think they might be more inclined to ask us to bid on other, more profitable projects?”

Spouse to spouse, persuading with “suppose” questions:

––“Let’s suppose you turn down this transfer; what other responsibilities might come your way if you tell them you’re not willing to relocate until the kids finish high school?”

––“Suppose we go to Tahiti and you get bored on the beach. How about playing a week of golf in perfect temperature rather than staying here in this heat?”

Parent to young adult, persuading with worrisome questions:

––“Okay, suppose you drop out of college for this job. Will that give you the freedom to travel next summer like you want to do?  Is the salary going to be what you need if you and Kara decide to get married?”

––“If you accept that lateral move now, would your executive team consider that acceptable experience to get to the next level when a spot opens up?”

Salesperson to client, helping client justify in his own mind a decision or course of action:

––“How could you justify the extra cost involved in ramping up your equipment to handle this project if you’re still unsure there’s a sufficient market for this particular product?”

––“Could you negotiate a temporary agreement with this supplier until you have time to complete the testing?”

By the very phrasing of such questions, you’re encouraging the other person to consider the merits or probability of a situation. The secret to being persuasive in any given situation may mean posing the right questions.

Why shouldn’t presenters and writers use the same technique? Open with a provocative question.  Stir in rhetorical questions to engage listeners as you move through your key points.  Caption your slides or document graphics with questions to draw your listeners or readers into the information they present.  Ask your audience to guess at data before you reveal your research or survey responses to them.  Use questions to transition from point to point or from paragraph to paragraph in a report.

Questions can whack a person upside the head.  They pack a punch:  Why not question your audience to persuade them to act or buy into your ideas?

Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 46 books.  Her work has been translated into 23 languages.  Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader  and  Communicate with Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition.  National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today,  the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, Bloomberg, Forbes.com, CNN International, NPR,Success, and Entrepreneur have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in writing skills, presentation skills, interpersonal communication, and organizational communication.   Clients include 22 of the top Fortune 50 companies.  www.booher.com  1-800-342-6621


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14 thoughts on “Communication Skills: Can You Persuade People by Asking Questions?”

  1. I agree. Most people do not want to be told what to do or think. They would rather feel that it was their own idea… and asking questions will help them find the answer.

    1. Good luck with that, Carmen. Most people give questions little thought. The better prepared people realize that the right questions can make the greatest impact–and often lead to the best outcome.

  2. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as
    though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You definitely know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be
    giving us something enlightening to read?

    1. Norberto, thanks for the comment. I use videos occasionally as posts for two key reasons: 1) Different people learn in different ways. Some retain better what they read. Others retain better what they hear. So I like to “mix it up” to please both styles in the blogosphere. 2) Search engines like Google rank posts containing videos higher than text-only posts so that means more people find, read, and hear the posts.

  3. Asking the right type of questions is an art. In order for the questions to be persuasive and not annoying, it has to fit in the context of the conversation and of what is important to the other person. If it feels like a manipulative or rhetorical question, it will not be effective.

    Leaders need to give more thought to asking the right questions.

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