The Power of Questions 2: The Golden If/Then Question

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The previous article in this series covered how to use closed-ended questions to discover a problem, when you had a clear understanding of the steps the person needs to take to progress, repent, or otherwise better themselves and their life. But what about when you don’t have that understanding? Or when the possibilities are too numerous to ask about each one? Or what about when you resolve the concern they had, but they’re still not willing to make the necessary commitment? What then?

ask-great-questions

So let’s use a bit of a frivolous example to show an extremely effective method. Pretend you were assigned by the Bishop to give an assignment to someone. They respond with, “Well, I don’t know about that….” Great, now what? They didn’t say “no,” but they’re obviously hesitant. You can’t exactly question their testimony of the Savior—it wouldn’t be appropriate. Plus, if their testimony is in order, you’re going to spend a long time getting from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to their concerns around their assignment to bring green Jello with carrots and cottage cheese to the ward party.

So here’s what you do: You start with an open-ended question that directly asks them to tell you what their concern is. “Sister Resistant, what don’t you like about this assignment?”

“Well, it’s just that I don’t think we need more refreshments. I mean I’m a fabulous homemaker, so I can make it just fine, I uh, yeah, just don’t think we need more.”

However, let me tell you this huge secret: When people are making excuses about something, they almost NEVER, EVER, tell you the real concern on the first question. And usually not on the 2nd either. It’s not a matter of honesty; often they haven’t thought it through themselves.

The Golden If/Then Question

Here’s the next step: Use the salesman’s technique of “the golden if/then question,” which goes like this: “If that weren’t an issue, then would you do it?”

So continuing the conversation:

“If you did think we needed more refreshments, then would you bring the green Jello with carrots and cottage cheese in it?”

“Well, see the thing is, I have my daughter’s soccer game an hour before the ward party, and I’m not sure I’m going to be there on time to bring the dessert.”

“Okay. If you knew you were going to be there on time, or somebody came and picked it up from you before you left for the game, then would you make the dessert for the ward party?”

“Uhhh… well, I just don’t like carrots in green Jello.”

“If you could leave the carrots out, then would you make it for us?”

“Yes.”

Now you know the real problem: She hates carrots in green Jello. So that’s where you start resolving concerns, and you might be able to smooth over the others just to make sure:

“I’ll tell you what Sis. Resistant, you just go ahead and leave the carrots out. I like my green Jello with cottage cheese better when there’s no carrots in there. And so that it won’t be too much hassle for you, I’ll swing by before the game and pick the Jello up. And, just so you know, we only have a couple of other people bringing dessert, so yours will be much appreciated.”

“Don’t worry about coming by to pick it up. I’ll be there on time.”

This might seem a little silly, but I assure you that only the situation I made up is silly. This exact thing will happen around any number of much more powerful situations: offering somebody a calling, inviting them to come back to church, getting a wayward youth to come to an activity, or even empowering a friend or family member to break a habit or addiction that’s blocking their eternal progression. Heck, if you’re a missionary, this is how you find out the true concern so you can then start resolving it.

Because the initial concerns are so rarely the true issue, it’s important to ask this question over and over (sometimes many more times than in the example), until you find the true problem. You might choose to address some of the other concerns briefly, as an after-thought at the very end, but make sure the focus and emphasis is on resolving the concern inherent in the last question before they said “yes”.

“If _____ weren’t an issue, then would you?” is a powerful question, but only if you keep asking it until they say “Yes”. If you get distracted by other fake concerns along the way, then you’ll never hit on the root cause. As long as the source is alive and well, nothing else you say will matter and the problem will remain.

Have you ever used this in your calling, job, or parenting? If not, how will it help now that you know how to use it?

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Tevya Washburn

Website Creator at FiddlerStudios
Designer & creator of Mormon Life Hacker. Tevya keeps a personal blog, & another called Sacred Symbolic, about learning the Gospel through symbolism. Currently serving as: Exec Sec

2 comments on “The Power of Questions 2: The Golden If/Then Question

  1. Shari says:

    This has been very good. When will the third installment be published?

    1. Hi Shari. Hopefully soon. It’s actually been written for a long time, I’ve just debated if it’s an appropriate 3rd post, or if I need to write a new 3rd post and make it the 4th in the series. Check back for it soon.

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