Funny? Funny how? I’m Here to Amuse You?

Let’s go to the movies in today’s Fable Friday and re-examine the famous restaurant scene between Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta in “Goodfellas.” I know you remember it, because I use the story in my workshops on communication skills and all the participants recall it once I set the scene and remind them of the dialog. (If you haven’t seen it, check it on YouTube before reading on.)  Pesci has just told a funny story and Liotta laughs and tells him he’s a funny guy.  This sets Pesci off and he badgers Liotta, asking him,

“What do you mean I’m funny?”

“Funny how?”

“What’s funny about it?”

“Like I’m a clown? I’m here to amuse you?”

The scene is quite comical and somewhat frightening, but we can learn something from it in the way we form questions and the reasons why we ask them. 

In all communication skill training there is emphasis on understanding and being able to form open probes and closed probes, and doing so intentionally to achieve a desired outcome.  Let’s use an example to illustrate.  A prospect tells you he does business with a competitor because he finds their service to be more convenient.

If you are a good communicator you should not accept the word “convenient.”  Convenient is a concept, similar to “funny” in the movie scene above.  To make any progress you must get the prospect to define convenient for you in behaviorally specific language, so that you can deal properly with the competitive difference, if any.

So you must act like Joe Pesci in the movie and ask the same kinds of open probes that he did, omitting the threat of violence and by all means not pulling a gun.  (I have to add that warning in here as a disclaimer.  You never know how seriously people will take my blog posts and I would not like to find myself an accessory to a criminal act.)  Your questions, positioned a bit more delicately than the gangster’s, might sound like this:

“I’m interested in your description of their services as ‘convenient.’  Could you tell me more about that?  In what way is their service convenient?”

Or the prospect may say he doesn’t want to go with you because it’s a “hassle” to switch.  Immediately an alarm should go off in your head about the poor descriptor “hassle.”  In what way is it a hassle?  What are the steps the prospect thinks he has to go through in order to switch?  By probing here you can learn what help you need to provide.

You can always have a conversation about specifics, but it’s hard to refute concepts.  That’s why politicians use conceptual language all the time, avoiding specifics, in order to “install” the desired attitude in the voter’s head.  “If this legislation is passed it will harm millions of retired people.”  When you hear a broad statement like that, you should ask, “In what way?  What will happen?  Why do you say that?”

As a professional salesperson, you must be a skilled communicator, and one sure way to succeed is to avoid letting others use conceptual language against you when you know you have a winning offer. Like Joe Pesci, follow up right away and ask for specifics.

So, was this post helpful?  Helpful how?  What’s helpful about it?  Like I’m here to help you?

Well, yeah.  I’m trying to help you

Think Like Your Customer!

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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