“What do I say when someone says to me…?”

Because many of my workshops involve communication skills, I often get asked by the learners what they should say in difficult situations. These people are knowledgeable and skilled, but they often get flummoxed when asked a tough question. I generally tell them that sometimes the best response is simply to ask a question back.

For example, I teach telephone skills, so when I get a call from a telemarketer who greets me with, “This is (name) from (some company or other). How are you today?” I always reply with, “Why do you ask?” And no, I’m not being rude. I’m trying to help the person learn that by getting to the point of the call, he will be more effective and not waste people’s time.

Here’s another example that I’ll bet has happened to you in your personal life.  Some nosy friend or relative will ask an intrusive question, like “So, when are you two going to start having a family?”

Understand that if you are reading this blog, you are probably in sales or work for some financial institution. It’s part of your character to always be polite and to make the assumption that when someone asks you a question you’re obligated to answer.  This isn’t even true if you have been arrested!  You’re under no obligation to answer any question.  If you hear a question like this, simply smile and say, “Why do you ask?”  There is absolutely no response from the asker that works at that point. He or she knows the original question was impolite, and this stops further intrusiveness.

It’s amazing how the right question, as opposed to the right answer is so effective in many situations.  Here’s another example from my negotiation skills workshops. Two companies are in merger talks.  One company proposes to the other, “If word of this merger gets out in the media, and you receive another offer and take it, your company has to pay my company $500,000.”

The CEO of the other company asked in response, “What would you do if you were in my position and someone made a demand like that of you?”

Here’s another situation you’ve been in before. Someone is trying to sell you something and says, “I’ve already had two offers for more than I’m asking you.”  Simply say, “Why did you not accept those offers?  Why are you talking with me?”

In the training room, as the facilitator I get lots of questions that I choose not to answer in an effort to share the learning and encourage people to think for themselves. So when I hear, “What do you say when…?”, I reply, “Well, what do you think you should say?”  Or, “Let’s hear what others would do.”

When asked a tough question as in the examples above, take your time.  Don’t feel like you must answer.  Decide if a question would be more effective in reply, and if so, ask it. Your counterpart will then have to explain his reasoning, and this may be just the opening you need.

Did you learn anything from this post today?  Here’s a pop quiz, like Jeopardy.  I’ll give you the answer and you come up with the best question to ask. This one’s easy:

“Et tu Brute”

Your question should be, “How many pizzas did you eat today, Caesar?”


See you next time, and remember to…

Think Like Your Customer

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

One Response to “What do I say when someone says to me…?”

  1. kara says:

    my own personal rule – you can ask anything you want – and people have the right to say “none of your business”. it amazes me that no one ever says that…and sometimes i just feel like being nosy!

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