You’ll know from previous articles that asking questions and listening to answers are two of the most powerful tools in the consultant’s kitbag. Here are four micro-skills for improving your performance:
- Once you’ve asked a question stay silent. Count to six before speaking. The prospect almost always breaks the silence and reveals more details.
- It’s easy to get prospects to go deeper into their initial answers. Simply repeat the last couple of words they say. Use an upward inflection (like a self-doubting teenager) to turn their statement into a question.
- From time to time you’ll catch yourself about to take the conversation away from the prospect. When this happens put the tip of your tongue against your front teeth.
- Summarise what the prospect has told you before making any statements.
You can try these micro-skills for yourself next time you’re in a conversation. Here’s an example of what you might expect.
Consultant: Do you have an example of this type of micro-behaviour?
Prospect: Yes. When I’m about to interrupt I put the tip of my tongue against my front teeth.
Consultant: Your front teeth?
Prospect: Yes, it stops me speaking and acts as a reminder to listen for a while longer.
Consultant. Acts as a reminder?
Prospect: To stay quiet and let the other person finish speaking. Not to disturb their train of thought.
Consultant: I see. So you find that putting your tongue against your front teeth acts as a reminder to let the other person finish speaking. By staying quiet you don’t disturb their train of thought. Is that right?
Prospect: Yes that’s it.
Consultant: That sounds like a skill worth practicing. How often do you uncover something you weren’t expecting when you listen like that?
Prospect: Pretty often.
Consultant: [six second silence … 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 …]
Prospect: That’s what I want your help with. My team are talking over each other a lot during meetings. I think we’re losing a lot of ideas. I want someone to design a workshop where we can practice these micro-skills together.
As you can see from this example it is simple, although not necessarily easy. Try it for yourself and let me know how you get on.