People are always asking something of you: your time, a question, etc. Often we are busy and we don?t think to stop and ask more questions, or maybe we don?t want to offend them. Recently, someone asked me for a budget on a project. Because it was outside our typical project scope, I needed to do some additional research to get an answer and I worked the better part of a Friday on this project.
After putting the time and effort into creating this budget, I was informed the prospect decided to no longer pursue the project. Upon hearing this news, I was frustrated because I spent almost an entire day working on a budget when my time could have been better spent elsewhere. Later, I realized I missed a major step in the initial agreement?I should have asked the prospect to clearly define their expectations from me upfront in regard to potentially signing a contact.
Why? Because I could have presented a few different scenarios of outcomes in the moment to see how they would react. If I was not going to be able to reach their goals, I could have stopped and addressed the issue much sooner.
I would ask, ?If I do this and the range is x, y, and z, what will happen and when??
What are you doing out of habit or not getting agreement on what will happen next? Has anyone asked for referrals and you provided them only to be frustrated when you waited weeks for them to respond?
What if you had said, ?I would be happy to provide them by tomorrow, assuming they are positive, would you be ready to move ahead? How long will it take you to follow up with them? Let?s set up a meeting for next Tuesday morning after you have followed up on them.?
Have you ever been asked to see a job, set up the meeting, and then nothing happened? What would you want to know before pursuing? What other questions are common in your world? Create a list, and ask yourself, what do I want to know before moving ahead?
Timing is important
A good example is when you hear people providing free bids or maybe someone is providing a free conceptual drawing to a client. There has to be a balance of what a remodeler does for a prospect; think of a rubber band.
It will stretch and come back to its original size unless it is stretched too much and it will break. That is similar with a relationship. You can stretch it, until someone feels it is a win-lose or not mutually beneficial to work together and the relationship ends.
By asking these three words ?if, what, and when? it allows that relationship to keep in the boundaries of each other. We all have different boundaries that usually fall in between what we are willing to do for others and what we expect from others. That also includes what people expect from you.
For example, one remodeler might run out, measure, and start drawing right away to see if they can get the client to sign the agreement. Only to end up disappointed because the client doesn?t sign the contract.
In contrast, another remodeler may not pick up a tape measure. Rather, they just talk to the client about their expectations getting agreement before anything is drawn. This is the exact moment these three words (if, what, when) come into play. All parties are at a different place wanting the same outcome. Nothing should be done until everyone understands each other and what they are willing to do, what the other person will do in response, and when. Without this agreement it is like a dog chasing its tail. People stay ?busy? but their outcomes are not as productive.
Be effective not efficient, effective meaning always be clear on the outcome. Remember, ?it?s not what you say, it?s how you say it.?
You don?t want to sound abrasive or rude; you want to have compassion and empathy for them. You want them to be happy, it will serve you both better for you to ask them: if, what, when. It has to be in the right context also. In contract negotiations this is very relevant: ?If we make these changes to the contract, would you be ready to move ahead??
If you were asking a client in your office if they need anything and they asked for a coffee, it probably wouldn?t work to ask ?then what?? But if an employee is asking for extra resources like an additional person on the job, it would be very appropriate to ask ?how would the outcome be different?? to see if the additional resources would pay for itself, maybe in client experience, maybe extra revenue that week.
So, next time someone asks something from you, remember take a pause, and with the right tone, in your own words, with the right timing, ask: if, what, and when.