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The Most Powerful Question in Business

I’ve been fortunate to participate in hundreds of meetings with attorneys over a good number of years.  I’ve heard and seen some interesting things… and even a few shocking ones.  But there is one meeting that sticks out among almost all others.  It’s the day a lawyer asked me what I’ve since considered the most powerful question in business, which is–

“What haven’t I asked that I should?”

Like most great questions, the answer isn’t that important.  It’s the impact the question has on the recipient that matters most.

First, it pays a compliment to the person receiving it.  It basically says, “You know this stuff better than I do, and I believe you have more information that would help me make the right decision.”  Everybody likes to feel that their opinion matters.  And in a negotiation or business relationship, you bet making people feel important is important.

Second, it tells the recipient that the person asking the question is a “real deal” business person, and immediately builds respect for the questioner.  I was about 8 years into a very fast-paced and challenging sales job, and thought I had a quality answer for just about any question. But this one stopped me cold.  The first thing I said was, “That’s a really great question that I’ve never gotten.”  And I meant it.  Plus the level of respect I had for that attorney as a businessman rose significantly.

Third, the question has the potential to uncover critical information that can help in a buying decision or negotiation.  In any negotiation, something should be covered that isn’t, no matter how thorough the parties are in their prep and discussions.  And many times, information left out is done strategically.  So to get one more bite at the “information apple” is powerful.

I’ve tried to use this question as often as I can since that day, and believe it’s appropriate in so many contexts – Purchasing Process, Employee Interview, Initial Client Consultation… you name it.  So the next time you’re in a business meeting, try one of these variations–

“What should I be asking that I’m not?”

“What haven’t we covered that’s important to this process?”

“What other information should we be discussing?”

“What have we left out up to this point?”

“What information have others benefited from that you can share with me?”

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