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How to Improve Your Sales Performance with Thought-Shaping Questions

By |March 21, 2022

A Thought-Shaping Question™ shapes your counterpart’s thoughts and makes them realize things they might not have thought of otherwise. They are different from Calibrated Questions™ (e.g., What challenges do you face? or How do you handle this process internally?), which are designed to uncover data.

With Thought-Shaping Questions, you ask your counterpart to make a decision that might have consequences. And because you ask with Tactical Empathy™, the other side knows that you see things from their perspective and understand how their decision might impact them. 

man negotiating contract with a man and woman in an office

At the same time, you give them the autonomy to make their own decision. And because humans love autonomy, this approach has proven to be quite effective among Black Swan students.

If you’re wondering how to improve sales performance, Thought-Shaping Questions can be a lifesaver. Keep reading to find out how:

The 3-Step Process for a Hotel Upgrade

To give you a better idea of what Thought-Shaping Questions look like, here are three steps you can take to get a free hotel upgrade. 

What do you stand to lose by giving it a whirl the next time you’re traveling?

  • Step 1: Kick off your Accusation Audit™ with a statement like this: I’m getting ready to ask you a question that’s going to make your day a lot harder. After you’ve made your statement, use Dynamic Silence™ to make sure your words land. In most cases, the clerk will flinch or blink and look up to the side before telling you to go on.  
  • Step 2: Continue your Accusation Audit: This will make me sound like another spoiled hotel guest asking for something they do not deserve. Lean on Dynamic Silence again, counting to 10 in your head until the other side responds.
  • Step 3: Ask your Thought-Shaping Question: How much trouble would I get you in if I asked for a complimentary upgrade? 

When we ask questions during negotiations, we interrupt our counterpart’s thought patterns. That being the case, it’s critical to make sure your Thought-Shaping Questions take the other side where you want them to go. 

By exhibiting Tactical Empathy throughout the process and addressing the negatives that the other side might experience, you make your counterpart feel understood, increasing the chance they will do what you would like them to do.

The Formula for Thought-Shaping Questions™

Successful Thought-Shaping Questions are delivered with a deferential tone of voice. According to Daniel Kahneman, this tone triggers “slow thinking”—or deep contemplation that stops your counterpart in their tracks.

Once you have your tone of voice locked down, here’s what you need to do to ask Thought-Shaping Questions:

Start your question with what or how. 

I’m a fan of starting questions with how because I think they land differently and lead to deeper reflection. 

Outline the potential consequences and pause. 

Think through all of the potential consequences of your counterpart agreeing to your terms. Call them out directly before they become headaches later on in the negotiation. After sharing these consequences, use Dynamic Silence and pause, opening up space and giving your counterpart time to think.

Follow up with your ask. 

With the right approach, your final ask won’t sound anywhere near as bad as the other side might have imagined.

Using this formula, you might end up with a Thought-Shaping Question that looks like this: How much strain would this put on your budget for the rest of the year if we made a decision by Friday? 

When used correctly, Thought-Shaping Questions can make all the difference in the world. However, these questions are not the only tool at your disposal.

To learn how to improve your sales performance, check out our free e-book, Five Ways Your Sales Team Is Killing Deals.

5 ways your sales team is killing deals