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By Dorothy Leeds

Robert Focazio, Vice President of Sales, AT&T, once said, ""If you improve your questions by 10%, you increase your sales and productivity by 20% -- and that's being conservative!" Knowing how to ask a smart question can get you almost anything you want, anytime. So why don't we all do it? In fact, most of us think we do. We're certain that we ask plenty of questions, particularly in those situations known to require skillful probing. The truth is that most of us make statements most of the time.

I have observed, during my years of coaching sales presentations and training sales managers, that the people who are most successful -- in both sales and management -- are the people who ask the most questions. This short quiz is designed to help put you in a questioning mode. Don't ponder these questions; go with your first, automatic response. Circle the answer that comes closest to your immediate response, then add up the points and read about the implications of your score.

1. When someone you call is "in a meeting," you:

a. Say "I'll call back."

b. Leave your name and hope he'll call back.

c. Ask "When is the best time for me to call back?"

d. Ask "Can you help me get through to your boss?"

2. Turned down for a raise, you:

a. Start job hunting.

b. Ask yourself, "What's wrong with me?"

c. Ask yourself, "What can I do to get a yes?"

d. Stick with it, even though you feel demoralized and de-energized.

3. When introduced to a new associate, you immediately:

a. Talk about yourself and try to make a good impression.

b. Ask questions to gain the advantage but resist revealing anything about


c. Draw the other person out by asking questions and talk about yourself

when asked.

d. Don't say much and let the other person carry the ball.

4. You're unexpectedly asked to move to a smaller, less advantageous office.


a. Start packing.

b. Start looking for another job.

c. Say, "I'm on my way to a meeting, can we talk about this


d. Ask your boss what's going on.

5. You schedule a meeting with a tough negotiator with whom you hope to do long-term

business. To begin, you:

a. Ask a direct and leading question to gain control ("What's your bottom


b. Ask a non-threatening question to establish rapport ("What do you feel is

the best way to start this?").

c. Let him start off.

d. Bring along a support person to set the stage.

6. You're asked by a high-level executive to volunteer for a project you don't want

to do. You:

a. Agree reluctantly.

b. Say, "Can you tell me more about it?"

c. Refuse with a lengthy excuse.

d. Ask, "How important is this to you?"

7. You're notified by mail that you've lost a major contract. You:

a. Accept the letter.

b. Plan to try again at the next bidding period.

c. Call up and ask why.

d. Register at the next sales seminar.

8. At an important conference you make a poor presentation. You:

a. Vow never to make another public speech.

b. Go over and over the things you did wrong.

c. Ask yourself, "How can I improve the next time?"

d. Ask a more experienced presenter for constructive criticism.


1. a=2 b=1 c=4 d=5

The least effective response is to leave your name and hope the person will call back (b). "I'll call back" (a) gives you a little more control; "When is the best time for me to call back?" (c) is good, but can lead to phone tag. "Can you help me get through to your boss" (d) is best because you get a commitment from someone else to help you.

2. a=0 b=2 c=5 d=0

Quitting (a) shows defensiveness and insecurity. Sticking it out (d) will serve neither yourself or your company best. Asking "What's wrong with me?" (b) is not the kind of self-questioning that produces results, unlike asking "What can I do to get a yes?" (c).

3. a=1 b=2 c=5 d=0

When you're talking about yourself (a), you're not learning much. (b) is a little better, although trying to gain the advantage is asking questions for the wrong reasons. Letting the other person carry the ball (d) is the worst response. The best response is (c); you should always be actively involved in communication.

4. a=0 b=2 c=5 d=3

My advice is, stall for time so you can think about the best way to handle this (c). Don't start packing (a) or looking for a new job immediately (b), there may be room for negotiation. Asking the boss what's going on can't hurt (d).

5. a=2 b=5 c=4 d=0

The obvious answer seems to be (a) -- to gain control. But gaining control at the beginning is not always wise. The best answer is (b), to establish rapport and gain trust. The next best answer is (c), to let the other person start. If you need a support person along (d), you'll lose brownie points.

6. a=2 b=4 c=0 d=5

Refusing immediately (c) won't help you get ahead; agreeing reluctantly (a) isn't very good for your mental health. "Can you tell me more about" might help, because the assignment may be better than you think. Asking "How important is this to you?" (d) is best. If it's not important, you may safely refuse; if it's very important you may gain extra points for doing it.

7. a=0 b=2 c=5 d=3

Accepting the loss (a) after putting in a lot of time and effort is not appropriate; people who want to get ahead have to be persistent. Planning to try again (b) probably won't help, but it does show persistence. Registering at the next sales seminar (d) is not a bad idea; it may give you some clues as to why you lost the contract. The best answer is to call up and find out why (c). Then you know specifically what to do the next time.

8. a=0 b=2 c=4 d=5

Never making another speech in public (a) is a sure way to put the brakes on your career. Going over all the things you did wrong (b) won't help unless you also list all the things you did right. The best way to correct any mistake is to ask yourself "How can I improve the next time?" (c). But in this situation the very best thing to do is to ask a more experienced executive for constructive criticism (d): not only will you get the help you need, but you'll also develop that person's interest in you.


31-40 Points

You're self confident and feel comfortable asking questions and asking for the sale. You're assertive, yet still able to establish long-term, supportive relationships with colleagues and clients, and don't hesitate to ask others for help and advice.

21-30 Points

You're comfortable asking questions, but you don't always ask enough. Be sure to ask clarifying questions that will clear up objections and lead you to the sale. To guarantee ultimate success, you need to listen more and to tune into new communication styles.

11-20 Points

You believe asking for help is a sign of weakness. When you don't make a sale, or when staff don't respond to your management style, you tend to blame circumstances or other people. Asking questions will reduce some of your anxiety, help avoid costly mistakes, and let you develop a more people-oriented approach to your career.

Less than 10 Points

You tend to give up too easily, and you avoid confrontation at all costs. You're afraid that asking for the sale will appear pushy or aggressive. Practice asking questions in non-threatening situations to bolster confidence and give you a way to assert yourself without anxiety.

How did you do? If you answered the quiz questions honestly, you now know where you stand as a smart questioner. So, here's one more question for you: What are you going to do to improve your questioning style and get into the questioning habit?

  Dorothy Leeds
  800 West End Ave.
  New York, NY   10025
  212.932.8364 (FAX)

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