Questions you want to avoid

You finally got the meeting you sought with a top executive at a prospective client. You prepare well for the session, researching the company and the individual you’re meeting with. After the small talk dies down, you ask your “killer” question:

“I’d like to get a better understanding of your issues. So, what keeps you up at night?”

Terrible question. Awful. Clichéd. One of my clients, the CIO of a large bank, told me that he kicks people out of his office when they pull out that question.

(I’ll get back to why it’s a bad question to use with a prospect you don’t know well in just a minute.)

Good questions can be incredibly powerful. But just as there are powerful questions, there are lousy ones. Here are some of the questions you should avoid:

1. Closed Questions

Anyone who has ever had to sell something knows that closed-ended questions are the least productive type of question you can ask. If you are trying to build a relationship with someone and want to understand how they think and what their issues are, you want to move as quickly as possible from closed-ended to open-ended questions. Some examples:

Instead of: “What’s your market share?” Try: “What are the main reasons you’ve gained market share in the last three years?”

Instead of: “When did you start your new job?” Try: “What’s the most rewarding part of your new job?”

Instead of: “How long do you want the training session to be?” Try: “Why do you want to do a training workshop?”

2. Judgmental Questions

Some questions are really just hidden judgments. For example:

“You didn’t really mean to do that, did you?”

“Why do you think you always arrive late?”

Judgmental questions stop the conversation dead in its tracks. They shut the other person down.

3. Sarcastic Questions

Sometimes we ask questions that aren’t really questions—they are just vehicles for sarcasm and anger, a blunt instrument to beat up on someone. I once heard a parent, for example, ask their high school junior, “Why do you think a competitive college is going to admit you with those kinds of grades?” Other examples would include questions like, “You’re so moody, why would anyone want a relationship with you?” and “Do you seriously think that is going to be acceptable?”


Leave a Reply