Reading Notes For: 

Control the Message

Instead, think about trying a different sequence by sharing a more complete story and leaving little to the listener’s imagination. Instead of the time sequence of here and now, we can draw on the past and the future to answer a question.  We can create context that connects with our audience. Think of the connection created by the right sequence as preparing the audience—opening their minds and piquing their interest—for the message to be delivered and then acted on.

Think of your message delivery in the same manner. Strive to connect with your audiences in the right sequence.

Most people don’t put much thought into the questions they ask.

Have you ever asked someone how they are doing and when they answered, you realized it didn’t really matter?

The same thing happens with most questions in business settings. The questions and answers people really want to know are often hidden deeper in conversations and unintentionally masked by surface.  This is not effective communication.

We feel an overwhelming obligation to answer questions asked of us.

I received a phone call from an executive who asked me to help her company deal with a question that kept coming up. The company was in transition, the CEO had just left, and they were worried this executive was going to leave as well. She shared that many of her staff kept asking if she was going to leave and what her plans were. She felt that by not answering them she was lying.

I asked if she knew her plan, and she said she didn’t. Then I asked if she thought that people are entitled to an answer to the questions they ask. She said she did. So I asked when was the last time she had sex. Obviously, she was shocked and immediately said she didn’t need to answer that question, which illustrated my point. Just because I asked a question, doesn’t mean I am entitled to an answer.

So we crafted an honest answer that refocused the conversation on what mattered most—the business. The new response:

“John (the name of whoever asks the question), the company is in a lot of transition, and I honestly don’t know what I am going to do. But I do know this. The company needs both of us to focus on the business right now. What do you need from me to help you stay focused?”

The person asking the questions is in control.

Questions are powerful because they set the frame of the conversation. By setting the frame, you control the direction of the conversation, which can be advantageous. By throwing out a topic and leading the listener to reply to your views, you get complete control over the conversation.

Most professionals know this intellectually but still get caught up in answering questions that don’t set them up in a strong strategic position.

To sum up, the result is that we humans feel compelled to answer questions that people put little thought into and that give them control of the narrative. The moment someone asks the price, the rate, or the commission before you’ve had a chance to communicate value, it’s over.  If you’re presenting a budget or a plan that has complexities, and people ask you to “get to the bottom line,” you run the risk of not fully communicating the value proposition in the right context.

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