A Question Is the Answer

When confronted with an objection, whether from a prospect, client, recruit or candidate, the natural tendency is to try and answer the objection with some form of rebuttal. This may be appropriate if you fully understand the reasons behind the objection and if your rebuttal can be suitably customized to address the specific circumstances presented. However, in most situations, you may not have sufficient information on which to base a credible rebuttal (see TFL – 09/05 – “Dealing Effectively With Objections). It’s in these situations where a question may be the best answer.


When confronted with an objection, your first thought should be: “What question can I ask, the answer to which will provide the information I need to better understand this objection?”

In many situations, you will know what question or questions to ask. However, when in doubt you can always rely on one of the following three core questions. These questions have withstood the test of time and can serve as a solid foundation for developing your personal questioning skills. In addition, each of these can be quickly modified to fit the specifics of the individual objection.

I. Why? What do you have in mind?

This question works particularly well when dealing with a request for a resume (which many times is a put off objection). It can also be effective in dealing with postponement objections or a request for additional information including information on your fees, rates or guarantee. Variations on this question may include:

A. I can do that. What do you have in mind?

B. That may be workable. What’s your objective?

C. What is it about that time frame that works for you?

D. What are we trying to accomplish by handling things in this manner?

II. As compared to what?

This question can be used any time you encounter an objection that is based on a value judgment, i.e., your fee is too high, your guarantee is not sufficient, your services have no value for us, etc. Value doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Value exists as a reflection of some form of measurement or standard. Your objective with this question is to identify that measurement or standard and to determine whether or not it is valid for your situation. Variations on this question might include:

A. You may be right. What’s your point of reference?

B. Against what standard do you make that judgment?

C. That’s a strong statement. How can we test its validity?

D. Obviously that’s a statement of value. Against what measurement or standard do you make that judgment?

III. You obviously have a good reason for saying that. Will you tell me what it is?

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This is a good general question to use for clarifying an objection. You are recognizing their right to say “no” while you are also asking them to justify their position. Variations on this question may include:

A. That’s a strong statement and I’m certain you wouldn’t have said it without a good reason. Would you share that with me?

B. Obviously you’re very firm on this point. Why is that?

C. Help me understand why you feel so strongly about this?

D. It might be helpful for both of us if I understood the reasoning behind your statement. What would that be?

As demonstrated by the above examples, the variations that can flow from these three simple questions are virtually limitless. The key is to know which one, or variation thereof, is appropriate for each situation.

Being good at asking appropriate questions at the right time is a skill that can be developed by anyone who is truly interested in becoming a professional in our information based industry. It takes practice and discipline to develop good questioning skills. However, once these skills are in place, you will be far more effective and productive in your work. As a by-product, using the same techniques in your personal life will increase your popularity both at home and amongst your friends.


The true art in this business is not getting people to listen to you. Rather, it is getting them to open up to you and freely share information and for you to be an active and involved listener.

The best way of accomplishing this is through asking timely and appropriate questions. However, in order for the questioning process to be effective, you must listen carefully to the answer, not make assumptions, and stay in the “now.” With this approach, a question can truly be the answer.

Recipient of the Harold B. Nelson Award, Terry Petra is one of our industry's leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms and industry groups across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including PETRA ON CALL, and BUSINESS VALUATION, visit www.tpetra.com. Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or click to email him.


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