The Lie About Open And Closed Questions

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People don’t play the game anymore. Why do customers only give one word answers – when politicians, who are asked for a yes or no answer, can drone on for what seems like hours?

In this VLOG, Grant Leboff explains why and how to overcome your dilemma

Isn’t it true minister, that since you’ve been in government, crime’s gone up by seven percent yes or no?

‘Now, technically that’s a ‘closed question, and so the politician should only be able to answer yes or no. But no politician worth their salt would actually answer yes or no to that question. The reality is they’d do something like a bridge and say this; ‘what I think the real question is what’s happened with violent crime. People on the doorsteps are telling us that’s what they’re concerned about, and violent crime has actually come down by three percent since we’ve been in government’.

Similarly, imagine a pop star on TV being interviewed about their latest album. The interviewer might ask the pop star, did you enjoy making the new album? Now again, technically, they should just answer yes or no, but they won’t. They’ll say yes, and then go into some well rehearsed anecdote about making the album – designed to make people interested and laugh – because after all, they’re there to promote their new offering.

So we can see that closed questions don’t necessarily get closed answers. But the same is also true for open questions.

Open questions are questions that start with words like How, Which, Where, When, Why, What and Who, and technically we’re told that they open people up, as they given more elaborative answer. The fact is though, this isn’t the case.

We’ve all experienced that sales meeting where you’ve gone in and asked the prospect, ‘so how do you currently source the product’ and they’ll say, ‘we get by’ or who’s in charge and you’ll get a one word answer; ‘Bill’. In other words, just because you’ve asked an open question, that doesn’t mean you get a very expansive answer.

The truth is that while open and closed questions are a nice theoretical model, the key to getting your questions answered is something quite different.

Ultimately, you have to ask questions that your prospect believes they have a vested interest in answering.

The reason why the politician gives an expansive answer is because it’s in their interest to do so. Similarly, the pop star on TV won’t give a closed answer because they want to sell albums. If you want a prospect in a meeting to open up to you, it’s not about whether you ask them an open or closed question, it’s whether they believe there’s value for them in giving you a more expansive answer. If they think there is, they will be more elaborative.

There are a number of ways that you can demonstrate there’ll be value in answering your questions. For example, if you’re perceived as an expert before you walk in the room, someone will be happy to talk to you. How the meetings come about, for example, by recommendation or referral may also mean someone thinks that it’s worthwhile talking to you and even how you frame the questions can demonstrate to someone that it’s worthwhile answering them. Whichever way you do it, you must ensure that people believe there’s value in answering your questions and in that way you will get more expansive answers.

So minister I will ask you for the 54th and final time, has crime gone up since you’ve been in office? [Sounds off] ‘Yes… yes it has!’

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  1. Great motivation from Grant and a number of great speakers demonstrating their commitment, comprehensive knowledge and understanding of businesses. From making sure the service is in place and working out form there.

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