We all know that famous line from the movie, “A Few Good Men,” with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. Jack Nicholson says to Tom Cruise, “You want answers?” to which Cruise replies, “I want the truth.”Nicholson fires back with, “You can’t handle the truth.”

It is a great quote for people in sales or customer service. This will sound shocking, but more people would rather ask soft questions than ask the real ones that give direct, frank and right to the point answers. I find it so humorous that many people do not want to know the “real story” or the truth when it comes to business. It might reflect the old line: “No news is good news.”

I could not disagree more with that concept. I want to know what is in peoples’ minds and the only way to truly find out is to ask. The key is to ask questions that will bring out the answer. It might not always be the response you wanted to hear, but nonetheless, it will bring out the other person’s true feelings on the matter. 

I am amazed at how people dance around and ask all the surface questions, but not the real ones that provide the truth. I am not talking about when there is an issue or a problem with a customer. Ask the great questions all the time, when things are good, and especially when they are not.

This is going to sound strange and the men who are reading this are not going to like the question I pose to my wife, and the women are going to say, “Hey, how come my husband doesn’t do that?”

Every few months I ask my wife, “Hey honey, how am I doing as a husband and as a father?” I want to know so we don’t go through 20 years of marriage and we wonder what happened to us. Then we do not communicate any more and have drifted apart. I have always believed in over-communication, rather than miscommunication. 

The key is to ask the second-level questions so you can go deeper into a conversation. For instance, have you ever asked your kids, “Hey, what did you do in school today?” The usual response is “nothin’.”

Now you have to go deeper, such as, “Well, what did you do in first period and how about second period and study hall? Who did you eat lunch with today?” Now you will find out some good information.

The same is true in business. It is always the next question after the first that can bring up some very good and truthful conversation. Here are a few good questions to start the conversation. 

Questions to ask in the business arena:

• How are we doing for you, really?

• What do you like about our company

• What don’t you like and why?

• How would you rate our employees and the way they treat you in sales and customer service?

• If you were in charge of our company, what would you do differently?

The second-level questions you ask next depend on the answer you got from the first question. If you ask someone, “How are we doing for you?” and they respond “Fine,” you need to ask another question to uncover more information. Maybe you could say, “Is fine, just us doing OK like a ‘C’ grade in school, or is there anything else that would push us to an ‘A’?” 

The key here is to get the other person to talk just as you would with friends or family. Remember, the more real you are, the more real the other party.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of numerous business books including two national best sellers “Can I Have 5 Minutes Of Your Time?” and “Lip Service.” Hal’s newest book on sales is titled “Ultimate Sales Book.” He can be reached at Halbecker.com.


Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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