How often have you been in a meeting with a client or prospect and felt like you lost control of the conversation? After starting on one subject, the other person goes off on tangents or takes the conversation in a new direction. Clients who are upset may launch into a rant with no particular point or one that isn’t related to the work you do with them. Or they simply want to talk about something other than the subject matter you broached with them.
Whatever the reason, when a client or prospect conversation goes off the rails, it’s incumbent upon you to steer it back in the right direction. Otherwise, your value to that person diminishes as long as you’re not in control. Taking control doesn’t mean taking over the conversation and dominating the talking space. Instead, it means getting it back on track, on the path to where it can achieve a productive or desired outcome. That can’t happen if you’re doing all the talking.
“Whoever is asking the questions controls the conversation.”
I’m not sure who said this, but it stands to reason. Asking the right questions is the most essential element of communication. By asking good questions, it demonstrates thoughtfulness and a deeper understanding of a topic. It also adds value to the conversation, giving the person the sense that their concerns are important and that you want to help. It opens up opportunities to demonstrate empathy, making them feel they’ve been heard and understood, instilling more confidence and trust.
More importantly, when using good questions to steer the conversation and allow the person to talk, it actually gives them a sense of control and empowerment—feeling as if they figured things out on their own, with your help, of course. Asking good, thoughtful questions can showcase your expertise more effectively than talking at a person about things you’re expected to know.
Tips for formulating and asking the right questions
As with any aspect of communication, framing good questions is a skill, requiring attention to what the other person is saying and having a natural curiosity to learn more. It takes practice and role-playing with someone is an excellent way to hone the skill. These are essential tips to follow when formulating and asking questions:
#1. Ask open-ended questions
If you ask a closed-end question, you get a closed-end (“yes,” “no,” “I don’t know”) answer and the conversation goes nowhere. Your goal is to keep the person talking, giving you more avenues to explore deeper. Ask questions that begin with “what,” “how,” “why,” or “tell me more about that.”
#2. Look for follow-up opportunities
Asking follow-up questions demonstrates your curiosity and interest in what the person has to say. But it requires listening and looking for a natural segue to have them expand further. At the right moment, you can say, “That’s interesting, tell me more about that,” or “What was going on in your mind at the time?”
#3. Show sincerity and interest
If you ask a question, train your focus squarely on the person with your eyes locked on theirs, showing an encouraging look. People can sense when another person is not sincere, discouraging them from opening up.
If you think you and your team would benefit from some training on connecting with prospects and clients and building trust, check out Don Connelly’s presentation, How Financial Advisors Can Establish Trust in a Virtual World – ask your branch manager to get in touch to discuss the details.
#4. Be empathetic
Any chance you have to demonstrate empathy is an opportunity to build trust. Again, it requires listening and attentiveness to what the person is saying, and it must come across as a natural and sincere reaction. Empathy sounds like, “That must have been awful. I can’t imagine how I would have reacted,” or “I had something similar happen to me, so I know how you must have felt.”
Some advisors may feel that asking questions will lead to losing control of the conversation because the other person is talking and they’re not. That may be true if you’re not sure of the objective of a meeting or can’t envision the desired outcome. If you know where you want the conversation to go, think of asking well-placed questions as guiding the conversation to that destination.