How to Use Questions to Lead… Without Asking Leading Questions


Lunch this week with a potential client – first time we’d met. Conversation starts out a bit awkward and choppy. So we make small talk about the weather and family.

How can I get this one-hour conversation to the point where he wants to meet again, I think to myself.

I ask a question about something I saw on his LinkedIn page. I relate his answer to what I do for work and ask, “What’s your experience with training and coaching?”

He shows little interest and I’m getting impatient. I just want to tell him how I think I can help him.

I ask, “How much would you like to see your people improve their ability to communicate and build relationships?”

The response is flat and evasive.

And then I remind myself: Lead through questions without asking leading questions.

Realizing I need to be more authentic, I share a quick story about how my desire to “do good work” recently blinded me from being aware of opportunities.

“How often do your people miss opportunities because they place top priority on getting things done?” I ask.

Aha! He lights up with interest.

I follow with questions that prompt him to talk about how his people could improve their ability to communicate and build relationships in the midst of being busy and productive:

“Tell me more about your people.”

“What gets in the way?”

“Why does that matter?”

Last week I suggested that “Questions” are one of five steps toward influencing someone to change. It’s not easy; we’d rather just tell the person what we think they should do. It’s also not easy to ask guided questions as opposed to leading questions, but it makes all the difference:

  • Guided questions direct a path of conversation. Leading questions bias the path of conversation.
  • Guided questions get someone thinking. Leading questions get someone answering.
  • Guided questions encourage participation. Leading questions encourage reaction.
  • Guided questions are usually open ended, generating rich discussion. Leading questions are usually “yes” or “no” points, bringing the discussion to a halt.
  • Guided questions encourage open dialogue. Leading questions drive narrow communication.
  • Guided questions feel helpful. Leading questions feel manipulative.

So don’t you think you should ask better questions?

Just kidding. That was leading.

What are your thoughts on asking more thoughtful questions? How do questions help you influence?

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