Friendly Fire

Asking the hard questions

A lifetime ago, in the middle of a drug cartel trial in Hammond, Indiana, a defense attorney threatened to put me on the witness stand and started coaching me about my testimony. When I objected to being coached about my answers, he told me what every litigator knows: never ask a question unless you know what the answer is going to be.

That’s good advice when preparing for trial, including the trials of business. Preparation, rehearsal and focus groups are all good tools for anticipating—and ensuring—that we will get the answers we seek.

Too frequently, we charge ahead with an idea we like, without testing it to make sure the audience will like it as much. The cost of our self-assurance is lost sales, misdirected initiatives and stifled growth.

The alternative is relatively simple. Ask customers before making the sales call and use their insights to create better presentations. If we can anticipate that a customer’s response will be negative, we might decide to skip a specific question. If we learn that the response is more likely to be positive, we can shift our field of inquiry. If we could find the set of questions most likely to prove our case, what possible reason would we have for skipping this preparation step.

I never ended up on the witness stand in Hammond, but I’m creating a transcript every day. We all do. Asking for a copy of that transcript can be unnerving, but we almost always benefit from the experience.

Written by Michael Rosenbaum on June 14th, 2012. Posted in Uncategorized

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