Want to know how to persuade in just one question?

What one question will win the other person over?

Pay-off: equip yourself to convince others with just one question

Investment: 7 minutes

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Soon you will face a conversation where you need to convince someone to do something that you believe will create a win:win for you both.

In that conversation, every single thing you say or do will either nudge you both towards the desired outcome, or away from it.

Many people seem to know that to persuade others, asking questions is more effective than just telling them why you think they should act a certain way.

But perhaps it would be more useful to consider which single question in that next conversation will do most of the heavy lifting?

Which one question will do more to win them over than any other?

And what would the impact be on both of you over the next few months (and years) if you found that question and asked it?

How about thinking this through with me right now to increase your chances of finding it?

Why ask and not tell?

First, let’s briefly look at the purpose of the questions we ask. Why? Because in my experience, too many people misunderstand what types of questions we should be asking, and why we should ask them. And you can guess what happens if you use a hammer to saw a piece of wood? Yet, as you glance across the office, you remember that people are doing that every day.

I mentioned that most people, it seems, understand that an ‘ask don’t tell’ approach is generally more effective when trying to persuade.

But I would argue that most people don’t actually do it often or well enough. Why? Probably because people find it easier to talk about things from their own perspective. That’s our default. Most people, by habit use what convinces themselves to convince you. I know, crazy.

But also, perhaps it’s because they don’t understand the power of certain types of questions. They mistakenly think that questions are asked to find things out, because after all, knowledge is power. Nope. For our purposes, knowledge is just knowledge. And you just asked and took that from me. That’s all.

In my workshops, I ask why we should ask questions to our customers, clients, colleagues or whoever we’re trying to help. The most common answer I get is scary:

“Because it makes it look like you’re interested in the other person” is something I hear far too often. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this response indicates problems on a number of levels.

Please pour yourself a stiff drink whilst you pause to consider the terrifying truth that some of your customer-facing people are simply not interested in the lives and business of your customers. They are only interested in enjoying what they do, and perhaps selling it. And your customers (who are about to leave you) know it.

The most influential person in the room by far

So I sigh (inside, you know, internally) and probe further around why we ask questions and someone will say, “because it gives us information.”


And sometimes useful.

But still potentially self-serving and missing the main point.

So what is my main point?

Well, strap yourself in, and why not start by considering who the most influential person is on you when another person is trying to persuade you? Is it you or is it them? Who has the final say?

So, when you’re trying to persuade someone intelligent, who is usually the most influential person? Right. They are. Sort of. It’s complicated…let’s simplify…

Here’s why you’re not doing all the things you think you should be doing

To clarify, it’s not you who is the most influential person on yourself, it’s the person inside of you. It’s your internal voice.

You know, the voice that says to eat the chocolates even when you promised yourself not to.

The voice that tells you to check your phone for messages, likes, or whatever confirmation you can find that someone is paying you attention and that you’re still relevant. At least until you check your phone again.

The voice that says you’ll probably fail at something so don’t bother or you’ll look a fool. And then what will people say about you?

That voice.

They’re the master.

Who’s the real pilot flying you along the path you’re on? (I think I just heard your internal voice snigger.)

So, when you are trying to convince someone to do something, who should you be connecting with? Them? Or their internal voice? Right.

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The internal voice is just a voice, and so does not listen

There’s a problem. And I’ll break it to you straight; an internal voice only gives a damn about itself. ‘Telling’ does not even reach the internal voice. More often than not, telling just bounces off the otherwise intelligent persons inanely smiling face like bullets hitting bullet-proof glass.

For example, I could tell you right now that you should do work you love that energises you and puts you in a stronger position than you’re currently in. You’ll probably agree. And then continue doing whatever you’re doing anyway as what I told you bounces off your bullet-proof face. (Sorry, I feel like I’m coming across as offensive.)

But what if I asked you to think back to a time in your career when you felt most alive? At least relative to all other times (there has to be your own personal peak moment so far). When you worked on that project, or with those people that had you bouncing out of bed for a stint at least? When you bounced to work feeling strong, energised and happy, if even for a few days .

Why was that? What stars aligned? What was most important to you at that time?

If I asked you to slow down and recall what that felt like, and how important that feeling was to you (that’s evidently possible to achieve and possible to achieve again), I’m beginning to talk to your internal voice.

And what, then, if I asked you to consider how you might bring that spark back again into your working life, what ideas you might have to do that, no matter how ridiculous they may sound?

What if we could find someone to help you turn that into a reality? We probably could. Would that be worth considering, internal voice?

For most people, you’ll begin to feel the rumbling of your internal voice as it starts contemplating the possibility of a better future.

How to connect with and influence their internal voice

So why don’t we recap on how we connect with their internal voice?

First, we ask the questions that it gives a damn about. The questions – the answers of which, impact the survival, enjoyment, and success of the internal voice (and the body it likes to take over.) These questions reach the internal voice, stimulate and trigger it to get us to act a certain way. Now, if you follow that up with an easy next step (along the lines of metaphorically pulling a lever for a small relevant prize to appear that takes them closer to their more ideal future) you’re really helping them to go somewhere.

So, shall we get some order to this so we can act on it?

Just ‘asking questions’ is a flimsy starting point.

If you’re asking them because you heard it was the thing to do, your game’s over before you even understood what you were playing and why. Go back to square one.

If you’re asking them because you want to obtain information, that’s potentially useful if you find a way to use it. Whilst they sit there listening to their own internal voice. Hurry up, and get it right. Because those questions do not reach their internal voice, they’re on a similar level to just ‘telling’, and so you’re not yet having much influence.

But if you ask questions that are designed to get the other person to think hard about something that matters to their survival or success, you’re beginning to talk to their internal voice. Rumble.

Instead of asking questions that you think you should be asking, why not ask them the questions that you know they should be asking themselves in order to solve their very problem?

You know this because you know all about what happens when people just like them hit problems just like this. That’s what you’re an expert in. It’s what you’re paid to do.

(As an aside, I read once that George Clooney viewed his auditions in this way when his career began to really take off. Apparently, he realised that the types of people holding auditions for the sort of roles he was interested in had a problem that needed solving – a problem that he was keen to help them solve.)

Why not ask questions that are:

  1. emotionally stimulating (they tend to make the person animated as the internal voice rumbles within..)
  2. challenging to answer (if they’re not, they’d have answered them already and therefore they are not part of the problem that needs solving)
  3. about their survival and success in the years ahead, whatever that looks like to them

You need all three in place for this to work. Miss one of them and you’re using a hammer without a head.

Win decision makers over

How has this worked in practice?

I stumbled upon an article here that had some questions asked by candidates that really impressed hiring managers.

They may help you get some useful ideas, but I also include them to hold them up against the checklist above. You’ll see that they contain the three ingredients I’ve shared with you.

Remember, these were asked by candidates to the interviewers, and they impressed them and worked.

1. What is an example of a client challenge you have recently faced?

It no doubt emotionally stimulated the interviewer. Check.
It was probably challenging to answer and required some thought. Check.
And it surely got the interviewer thinking about their own survival, success, and any help they might need. Check.
Perhaps one easy step forward was to offer the candidate the job?

2. Where do YOU see the company going in the next year? 10 years?

Emotionally stimulating enough?
Challenging enough?
Did the answer have impact on the interviewers own survival, relevance and success?

3. What is the question you all really want to ask me but haven’t?

Emotionally stimulating? Rumble rumble.
Was the answer tied to the likelihood of their future survival or success?
Was the candidate a genius or what? I want them to work for me. If you’re out there…

4. What impact would I have on the team if I get hired?

Emotionally stimulating?
Challenging? (Certainly, if they had to think through, and internally begin to feel the pro’s and con’s playing out on the team)
Tied to survival and success of the business? The team? The hiring manager? This question painted a picture of success in both the hiring manager’s and the candidates minds. A shared vision of success, if only the interviewer would simply offer the job…

You can see the other three questions here if you’re interested.

My second most important question to you

To wrap this up, here’s my second most important question to you:

What’s important about the questions we ask others that help them to understand and solve their own problems better? (What happens when we ask so that they feel and think it through with our support?)

My most important question to you

And here’s my most important question to you:

What one question could you ask in your next persuasive conversation that would most likely create a rumble within and win the other person over?

And once you’ve answered it and considered the impact when it works, how costly would it be if you forgot it? i.e. why not write it down right now and ask it 😉

If you want your team to improve how they help their customers and clients make buying decisions, my site is here and you can reach me through that.

If you want my help, contact me here.

If you want to run any of your questions by me, just ask.

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