September 19, 2018 4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Why do we interrupt people while they’re asking questions? Many speakers are guilty of doing this. We rush to answer questions before we’ve heard the entire thing, but why? Perhaps it’s ego resulting from being in a position of informational power, or maybe it’s a genuine desire to help. Maybe we interrupt questions because they are unscripted and unnerving. Either way, it’s interrupting.
We know the value of being a good listener. In conversation, many professionals intentionally practice good listening skills, allowing others to finish their statements, making strong eye connection and demonstrating supportive body language. When it comes to being asked a question, however, they are quick to interject, which results in looking unprofessional and disrespectful.
We often operate under a flawed assumption that we already know what the speaker is asking before they even finish. We interject with answers we believe to be true, only to realize we misunderstood the question entirely. This behavior frustrates those asking questions and it challenges the trust they have in you as the listener. Our credibility and how others perceive us are challenged when we interrupt questions. It can make us look hasty, uncertain and lacking in confidence. People won’t trust that you’re fully listening, which can create a lack of confidence in your answers. They will become less likely to approach you in the future.
Your ability to listen and fully comprehend a question before answering can make or break your business success. One HubSpot survey states that 69 percent of respondents want a salesperson who listens, understands and adds value to their real needs. Sales professionals often hear from customers the excuse “we don’t have the budget” when the budget often has nothing to do with the reason they say no. Listening to a prospect’s complete question helps you understand what’s being said — and what’s not. Many people have an unspoken known. It’s their real reservation to your proposal, which prompted the question to begin with. The reality is they don’t understand the value of what’s being sold, at least not enough to make way for it.
We must acknowledge that there is value in questions asked. They create participation, strengthen relationships, clarify information and increase the knowledge of the discussion. Cutting off a question before it’s completely asked takes away its value.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for handling the next line of questioning that comes your way:
- Strengthen your credibility by providing brief and clear answers, overcoming any hostility or negativity behind the question.
- Communicate that you are open and willing to take their questions.
- Connect with the questioner’s eyes to show you are listening.
- Before you respond, pause to give yourself time to think on your feet.
- When communicating with two or more people, begin by directing your first two sentences to the questioner. Then continue presenting your answer to everyone.
- Answer only what has been asked. This avoids getting off track and confusing listeners.
- Maintain composure, remain calm and answer with poise and dignity.
- Take notes on what’s being asked.
- Begin your response with a non-word such as “well,” “basically,” “actually” or “to be honest.”
- Begin your answer with “but” or “however.” These words communicate, “You are wrong and I am right.”
- Raise your voice, speak with an aggressive tone or invade the questioner’s space while answering the question.
- Say “good question” — it comes across as trying to buy time to consider the answer.
- Repeat the audience’s questions, unless you sincerely need clarification.
- The question is unclear.
- The questioner asks several questions. You will need to prioritize and determine which question you will answer first.
- The questioner makes a statement and you are unsure if she is looking for a response or only voicing her opinion.
How you handle questions and answers can either make or break the credibility you have worked so hard to establish. Beginning today, prioritize listening to understand, not to be understood. Commit to making your interactions about the needs of others. Being an intentional listener will help you hear what’s being said — and perhaps even what’s not.