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If you’ve ever wished you had just the right question to ask a prospect, client, or your boss, you’re not alone. We tend to believe that being clever and quick on our feet is what impresses and engages people. Actually, according to Andrew Sobel and Jerry Panas, authors of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (John Wiley & Sons, 2012), it’s all about asking, not telling: Having the right question is more important than having the right answer. It’s the difference between telling a client to change and asking them what strategies for change they are considering.  Between asking someone, “How far do you want to go in your career?” and “Is the career ladder you’re climbing leaning against the right wall?”

Each of 35 chapters features a power question and a real story about how it was used and the impact it had. The authors have had long careers, and you meet a fascinating array of characters in the book, including a number of CEOs, a minister, Peter Drucker, and a few historic figures who were adept as using questions.

A few of the questions:

  • Want to help someone rise above mediocrity? Take a cue from Steve Jobs and Henry Kissinger and ask, “Is this the best you can do?” (Chapter 11)
  • Are you involved in a sale that is dragging on and on? Read Chapter 4, “When the Sale Is Stuck” and find out if the four preconditions for a sale have been met. Ask yourself, “Are they really ready to buy?”
  • Encourage those who work for you (or perhaps a child) to truly learn from their experiences. Ask, “What did you learn from that?” (Chapter 16)
  • Have you gotten off on the wrong foot with someone, or been stuck in a futile argument? Throw yourself a life preserver and ask, “Can we start over?” (Chapter 8)
  • Want to understand someone’s passions? Ask questions like “What has given you the greatest fulfillment?”, “What else would you like to accomplish?” and “Why do you do what you do?” (Chapters 9,10, and 31)
  • Are you meeting with a client who seems distracted and disengaged? Refocus on his or her most important priorities by asking, “What’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?” (Chapter 33)
  • Oh, and never, Sobel and Panas tell us, ask questions like “What keeps you up at night?”, “What has surprised you?”, and “What will it take to get your business?” They explain this in Chapter 13, “Bury the Cliches”

The last section of the book usefully contains another 300 questions, organized by topic—meeting a client for the first time, speaking to your boss, and so on.

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