The Best Engagement Question Ever

Last week I reviewed a proposal with a potential client. It had several elements, which would take me at least five minutes to explain, and like a proud author wanting the reader to reserve judgment until they’ve read the entire book, I wanted to cover it all before getting a reaction. But a voice whispered in my head: You’ll lose her if you download it all.

So I stopped and asked the best engagement question ever.

How do you feel about that?

question mark

I learned about the best engagement question ever when I was in high school and was trained as a “peer counselor” to help other students work through their challenges in a confidential forum. Given our adolescent maturity regarding psychotherapy, the leaders of the group persistently recommended that we simply default to this one question when meeting with students.

But it’s not always easy to stop ourselves and provide the space for that question.

Recently I tried to persuade someone to support an idea I had. Several reasons for why they should support the idea flooded my mind so I started making my case by saying, “There are four or five reasons why we should consider moving forward with this.” And then I took a deep breath and started moving through them.

But when I got to the end of the first reason, I realized that I faced a choice in proceeding. I could keep going or I could stop to get his reaction to my first point.

Either choice posed a risk. Stopping risked him responding to an incomplete picture—or worse, derailing the case I was making. Continuing to make my case, though, risked him disengaging due to disagreement, disinterest or distraction.

What would be the bigger risk—derailment or disengagement? Is it more productive to keep someone moving forward emotionally or logically?

Well, as Dale Carnegie pointed out, “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion.”

shot clock

Watching the 2015 NCAA March Madness basketball games, I thought about what it might be like if we implemented a shot clock in our interpersonal communications. Imagine being reminded every 35 seconds to take your shot and make your point.

Consider the implications of closing your mouth every 35 seconds and giving the other person an opportunity to respond to the best engagement question ever.

Now, there are variations of the best question ever that we can use so that we don’t sound canned or repetitive, questions like:

How does that sound?

What do you think?

What’s your reaction to that?

What’s your bigger risk in communication? Derailing your agenda, your control, your plan? Or is it not connecting with the other person’s emotions?

How do you feel about that?



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  • Mike Norman
    April 16, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Matt, This is very thought provoking. I have found this becomes even more challenging when we are in a more senior position to the person or people we are attempting to persuade. If we don’t do as you suggest, they will often “go along” because they see a risk in challenging us as their “boss or leader”. They will often appear to be on board and even say the right things but, as you say, they may not be engaged and therefore may sabotage the desired result. I love your 35 second shot clock idea. This will stick with me and will help me to be a better communicator in all situations. Thanks.

  • Susan Arico
    April 17, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    I had not encountered this Carnegie quote before:
    “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion.”
    Very powerful.
    Appreciate the post