Using Questioning Skills to Gain Commitment

I recently had a difficult conversation with myself and it went something like this.

Me: Steve, come on in and grab yourself a seat. How are you today?
Myself: Not at all bad thanks ………….. weekend ………. i-pad problem …….. possible new client ….
Me: Can I get you a coffee?
Myself: Just a glass of water thanks. I am trying to cut back on caffeine and to hydrate better.
Me: Good for you. You don’t mind if I tuck into this double espresso latte macchiato do you?

Me: Steve I have noticed that you have not published a top tip for difficult conversations for over a month now. As a result the website is looking a bit stale plus some subscribers to your tips are starting to grumble. So what’s the story?
Myself: The truth is I have just been so busy ………. demanding clients ………other priorities ………… holiday ………… travelling to Derby, Swindon and Hong Kong …….. its just been so hectic. It’s not that I don’t want to write it you know. I know it’s important.

Me: You say it’s important. How do you see that?
Myself: Oh there are a hundred good reasons ………..

Me: You make a strong case for getting this done. So how hectic does the rest of this week look?
Myself: A little better actually as I am in the office for 3 days and have cleared most of the urgent stuff already. I reckon with a fair wind and a bit of luck it could be done this week or next.

Me: I would really like to see you get it published by this Friday lunchtime. We know from the newsletter data that a lot of people do click on the top tips Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Can you commit to that for me?
Myself: Well I will certainly try. I have an idea for the content so I suppose if I sketched that out once we’ve finished I could do the first draft Wednesday and then polish up and publish on Friday morning.

Me: So, can I take that as a yes?
Myself: Yes, I suppose so.
Me: You don’t sound sure. If you want to run the draft past me on Wednesday I am around most of the day.
Myself: That’s good to know. Yes, see you on Wednesday.
Me: Great.

So what was going on there?

1. The manager (me) used a simple acronym called AID to deliver the message. More about that in the next top tip.
2. The manager also used a range of questions and a funnelling approach to work towards a commitment.

Different Types of Questions

“How are you today”.
An open question designed to create rapport and start a conversation.
“Can I get you a coffee?”.
A closed question with limited answers designed to create a bridge to the subject matter.
“You don’t mind …….. do you?”
A rhetorical question where no answer is required or expected.
“So what’s the story?”
An open question to get the conversation moving towards the 30/ 70 desired ratio.
“You say it’s important. How do you see that?”
A probing question picking up on a key word or phrase. The purpose is to find out more.
“How hectic does the rest of the week look?”
Further probing through a less open question designed to focus in on a specific area.
“Can you commit to that for me?”
A closed question with the purpose of gaining commitment on a specific point.
“So can I take that for a yes?” and “You don’t sound sure”.
A mixture of probing/closed as good listening skills identified some possible doubts.

The idea of moving from open to probing to closed questions is to ‘funnel’ the conversation. At the top are potentially wide-ranging and varied topics (the rapport stage) then to lots of data about a more focussed area and finally very focussed and very specific (commitment).  Developing your questioning skills can be a very useful tool for both your personal and professional leadership.

I hope you find this useful as I can report that Steve actually completed his top tip ahead of time!!!!