There’s really no way to sugarcoat it. It is the most challenging aspect of a salesperson’s job–or for that matter that of a parent or anyone who wants to persuade–to ask the more difficult questions. Such questions are sometimes referred to as “pain” questions. Two weeks in a sales training class will show you that it all comes down to this: Are you able to create pain without creating conflict?
Recently I received an email from a salesperson–someone I know, have coached, and deeply respect. In her email she informed me that she had just utilized those “pain” questions with a client, with great success. She revealed to me, though, that forcing her client to examine the most difficult aspects of his resistance to change caused her to “feel a little mean.”
Her revelation stopped me cold. It made me take a deep breath and swallow hard, for I had to accept the fact that I hadn’t fully done my job with this person. In fact, I’d failed to get across the most important lesson I could ever teach her. When you force someone to answer a difficult question – a question that makes another person feel the pain of not taking action, you are not being aggressive. You are, in fact, being empathetic.
I’ll go a step further. I firmly believe it’s one of the most sincere acts of kindness you can offer another human being. We’ve all seen people who are struggling at home, or at work, and we want to help them. Anyone can come to the rescue with his or her wonderful ideas on what another person should do. It never creates change, but it’s a comfortable conversation. I’m talking about taking the tougher road, but ultimately, the much more successful road.
It hurts to be asked by another person what room the children are in when they are fighting with their spouse, but the answer can lead a couple to therapy. It hurts to be asked what impact not supporting a corporate directive could have on a new, starry-eyed manager, but the answer can save a career.
I want people to understand that the process of persuasion isn’t ruled simply by a tactic. It must be accompanied by an emotion. That emotion is one of empathy. You have to believe in the tough questions you ask, and then you will succeed. You’ll succeed in the art of persuasion, and you’ll succeed because you are exemplifying the art of caring about another person. When you ask difficult questions, it is never mean. It is compassionate and possibly life changing. Once confronted with the tragedy so many endure because of their inability to make tough decisions on their own, you see that these questions are, in fact, merciful.
In the end, you get to save things. You get to save both people and businesses, because the path you took required discipline and courage. The results you initiated changed another person’s life. You were the one who helped someone move past his or her fear of change, and into the future. Doing something like that is never mean. It’s quite the contrary. It is something to be proud of.
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