When we offer familiar answers based on preconceived ideas, we miss the opportunity to learn more about the questioner and her situation. Even worse, we can take the conversation in a completely wrong direction.
The tendency to jump the gun with answers before we understand where a question is coming from is a common routine. It’s also a very unhelpful habit that we need to work on.
To do that, we have to always remember to proceed with an open mind. As a helpful reminder we’re going to borrow a phrase from the Zen tradition that refers to this non-biased openness — Don’t Know Mind.
Without the “wise naïvety” of Don’t Know Mind our assumptions and thought patterns can keep communication snarled up like rush hour traffic.
Someone says, for example, “I hate paying for workers comp coverage,” and you reflexively reply, “Yeah, it’s a big chunk of money.” With that comment, you miss the chance to learn something specific about your prospect. Why exactly did she make that remark?
Here’s where a simple “Why is that?” or “Tell me more” could make things much clearer. She might then replay, “There’s so much fakery. Everyone’s out to milk the system.”
Hearing that, you could move the conversation to your Back to Work programs or risk management services that can help identify problem employees before you bring them aboard.
Let’s appreciate the power of uncertainty and practice asking short open-ended questions to encourage people to explain further:
Why is that?
Why do you say that?
What makes you say that?
Even Can you say more? Or Tell me more… (Not a question per se, but it acts like one)
Here’s another example. Out of the blue your prospect says, “What about homeowners insurance?” They seem to be asking if that’s something you can also help with, but maybe they have something else on their mind.
Instead of jumping in with “We can certainly do that as well,” you could learn a lot more by asking, “What were you thinking about that?” The prospect is now obliged to tell you more specifically what made them ask about home insurance in the first place and that gives you the opportunity to learn – and possibly sell more.
It helps to get under the hood so we can be more assured of what people are talking about.
Developing a relaxed state of Don’t Know Mind may take some practice; after all, our habit of reacting quickly with rote answers has been deeply entrenched. But asking people to clarify and amplify before proclaiming what you think you already know gives you the chance to reflect a moment and readjust.
That mental realignment can deepen your connections and bring fresh perspective to just about every conversation. Don’t you think?