Ask for permission before asking a question – why it works

Last week I wrote about a controversial and quite discussed topic in the world of sales training: I’m talking about why ask for permission before asking a question is, in most cases, the wisest and most effective choice.

In the article I focused on the reasons why (in my opinion) many trainers and consequently many salespeople have abandoned this old habit in favour of a more control-oriented type of commercial conversation: in case you haven’t read it, I invite you to do so.


Today I’d like to go a step further and elaborate (albeit not in too many words) on why I find this so effective.

As you will see the reason is simply common sense but deeply rooted in human psychology and, according to this, asking permission before asking works and will always work… as long as we sell to human beings.

Let’s start from the above mentioned article: as I told you, asking for permission helps to streamline the conversation, to establish a non confrontational atmosphere, to reduce the pressure between the people involved and to eliminate friction.

Without this, the business conversation would be very similar to an interrogation in which you grill the other person to get as many answers as possible: this would generate discomfort and make the other one suspicious, increasing the barriers between you.

As you know, it’s only by putting your interlocutors at their ease that you’ll be able to obtain the information necessary to understand whether or not you can help them: putting them at their ease means creating a conversational atmosphere in which people feel free to talk.

We should start from this if we want to understand why the act of asking for permission before questioning is so effective: after all, the logic is the same, you just need to adopt a different point of view.

To generate an effective commercial conversation, people need to feel free to speak and, more importantly, not to speak: in other words, they need to have the full power to say ‘No, I don’t feel like talking about this issue’ or ‘No, I don’t feel like answering your question at all’.

In other words, you have to give them the freedom to choose what to do, without taking away their choice: this is a very simple psychological principle existing in all of us – in fact we hate to be deprived of the possibility to decide, even when we are not capable of doing so.

Following the same logic and bringing it back to the main topic of the article, asking for permission before questioning works because it gives the other person the possibility (barely exploited) to freely choose whether to receive a question or not: this non-coercive attitude guarantees the flow of the exchange of information and the reduction of friction which exists in all the sales conversations.

Furthermore, the upper you go in the organisation/decision-making structure the more this rule is valid: talking to someone who makes decisions every day, offering him the freedom to decide whether or not to answer sets you differently towards him and his/her organisation.

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