The best coaches are adept at asking powerful follow-up questions. They use a well framed follow-up to signal that they not only heard the previous answer, but have processed it to a preliminary understanding, and are now seeking to go farther and deeper to understand the speaker’s full meaning.
Respond to the listener’s expectation
If you’re having a serious discussion with someone, they want to know that you’re really engaged in what they are saying and want to know more. Your caring approach to listening makes them feel heard, and that you are respecting their knowledge.
The speakers feel honored, and they want to continue the dialogue. This not only creates a link with the listener but opens the door for deepening the conversation and the underlying relationship.
What’s my investment?
All of these advantages come at a price.
Skillful tennis players anticipate where their opponent will return the volley and begin moving there as their opponent gets into position for their hit. That form of in-the-instant judgment comes after years of playing, and thousands of volleys. The equivalent experience for a coach comes from years of learning and practicing their craft.
Many of the readers of this piece have that level of experience in their domain. The trick is to be intentional about taking advantage of it as the conversation flows back and forth. Newcomers to a domain can prepare by tapping into experienced colleagues in advance of their meeting. They can ask about the most critical topics likely to come up, and how those topics best relate to customer those challenges.
Steps for great follow-up questions
1. Do your homework on what you believe will be the critical topics you will discuss in this discussion.
2. Take advantage of what you already have experienced in those areas to anticipate how the conversation might flow.
3. If you don’t have direct experience, interview colleagues or available experts to understand the most critical aspects of the topics.
4. Be realistic about how far you can take a topic. Maybe ask a question about its relative importance, so . At a level that you will at least you will know they are critical, without going into any depth.
5. Invite a more experienced colleague to make the meeting with you.
Then, relax and engage in the conversation. If you’ve done this level of prep, you will most likely present yourself as more credible than most of the competitors for your client’s attention.