Push Open the Flood Gate

November 29th, 2012 | Leadership
Push Open the Flood Gate

Excerpted with the permission of the authors from Chapter 17 of Power Questions:

I am having lunch with Margaret.

I don’t usually take time for this sort of a luncheon date. But Margaret has been calling every month for the past year to arrange a time we can get together. She is Vice President of my bank, in charge of the Private Banking Division.

I think: who knows when I’m going to need some credit. Why not get together? I have never met her.

“Sure. You bet, let’s have lunch. It’s about time,” I tell her when she calls this last time. We meet at a special restaurant of her choosing. She is waiting at the table when I arrive. She stands up. Her handshake is firm and friendly. There’s a peck on the cheek.

Before the waiter comes for the order, Margaret talks about how long she has been at the bank. She tells me about her progression up the ladder to her present position. “I’ve worked very hard to get where I am.”

The waiter arrives with the clam chowder. While we are eating that, I hear about her wonderful two-week holiday in Hawaii. “We go there every year. We have a time-share on the Big Island. It’s glorious.”

(I wonder where this is going. There’s a wonderful scene in Scarface, when Al Pacino is relaxing in a huge bubble bath in his mansion. He looks around and asks, “Is this all there is?” I’m asking the same question.)

Between the soup and our Cobb Salad, Margaret tells me about her new grandchild. She digs into her purse and pulls out some photos for me to look at. There’s nothing as proud as a new grandmother.

(I am wondering if Margaret has any questions for me. Nothing so far.)

We finish with coffee.

She looks at her watch. As sudden as a sneeze, it’s obvious it is time to leave. “It is so special,” she says, “having this time with you. I’ve really looked forward to meeting you.”

Whoa— what’s happening here? It occurs to me that I learned a great deal about Margaret. She learns nothing about me. Nothing. She has no idea what motivates me or what makes me get up in the morning. She’s learned nothing about my business.

Just think about what she could discover with some simple, open-ended questions. For instance, “Tell me how you feel about our services?” Or, “Why did you decide to go into business for yourself?” Or, “You’re an important client of ours—how can we do a better job of meeting your needs?”

Most important: “Really? Can you tell me more?”

An amazing torrent of conversation and information flows when someone responds to a question of yours and you say, “Tell me more.” This simple phrase, in fact, can be used almost anytime to draw someone out. “Tell me more about that” is a powerful prompt you can use often. Daily, actually.

I left the restaurant, shaking my head.

Back at my office, a colleague asks me about my lunch. “Was it a good use of your time?”

“No!” I blurt out, before I could even think of a proper response.

“Why? What happened?” he asks. And as I think about the lunch, I realize my banker did not ask me anything that helps me clarify my thinking about my business or my career. Nor did she share with me, for example, how some of her other clients, in similar businesses, deal with my particular challenges. By failing to learn about my priorities, she gleaned no clue about how to serve me better or what other services I could benefit from.

My banker squandered a power-packed opportunity. She goes through business life’s revolving door on somebody else’s push. She could have ensured my continuing relationship with the bank. She could have won my enthusiastic business support wrapped in a perfect package with few strings remaining untied. She didn’t.

It’s not about you. If you do all the talking, you learn nothing about the person. If you do all the talking you’re in the spotlight. If you do all the talking, you don’t empower the other person.

Your job is not to listen to respond. Your job is to gain information and create a vibrant dialogue. That’s an important distinction. Tell me more is the magic key to open up the next layer of the other person’s thinking and experiences.

Would you like to know more about Power Questions?  Here is a really well done video overview Power Questions by Andrew Sobel:   

Build Relationships with Power Questions


Which of your friends would thank you for forwarding this post to them?

Jerold Panas & Andrew Sobel


Authors of Power Questions: Jerold Panas & Andrew Sobel – Jerold Panas (1928-2018) was the world’s leading consultant in philanthropy and the CEO of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, the largest consulting firm in the world for advising nonprofit organizations on fundraising. Andrew Sobel is the leading authority on building long-term client and other professional relationships. He can be reached at Andrew Sobel.



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3 thoughts on “Push Open the Flood Gate

  1. I’ve had the opposite happen where people focus on asking questions on me and I respond because I think that is what they want. I try to turn it back on them, but they are tenacious. However, at the end, I feel empty because I didn’t learn about them and they didn’t challenge me to grow. Any advice about how to handle something like that?

  2. Pam Smith says:

    Maggie – Two suggestions:

    You can end your reply with: “And now, tell me about your experience with that.”

    You can also respond to the question with: “I’ll be happy to answer; I’d first like to hear your thoughts.”

    Bob – I have a person who knows very little about me despite a 10-year business relationship. The person clearly approaches meeting as checking off on their list that they had face time with a client. I have to confess: I have fun with it; sometimes I silently count the number of times the person says “I”. :o) Because of this, we now meet briefly just once a year to review the agreement. I give the majority of the business in that category to a competitor who took the time to get to know me and my goals.

  3. Pam–great response for Maggie–Thanks!

    Maggie I think good communication is a two way street. Andrew and Jerold share the ironic story of someone who initiates a meeting to get to know their customer better and then never asks anything that would help her to better know her customer.

    Pam your story sounds very similar to Andrew and Jerold’s story. I am not surprised that you have taken the majority of your business elsewhere.

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