Michael Pantalon is a research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine and leading authority on “motivational interviewing.”  This technique seeks to spark behavior change not by coercing people, but by tapping into their inner drives.  Pantalon says, “I’ve learned that rational questions are ineffective for motivating resistant people.  Instead I’ve found that irrational questions actually motivate people better.”

Let’s try it!  Your client is hemming and hawing about the decision to invest in an office building.  Using Pantalon’s approach, you would not say, “Please make a decision, I’m too busy for this back-and-forth.”  Instead you’d ask two questions:

Question 1.  “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning ‘not the least bit ready’ and 10 meaning ‘totally ready,’ how ready are you to make the investment?”

Your client offers an answer.  And you move on to…

Question 2.  “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?”

“This is the question that catches everybody off guard,” Pantalon explains.  People that are resisting a final decision are reluctant to provide a decisive “yes” or “no” so asking for a decision won’t get you closer to one.  If your client has even a faint desire to move on their potential investment they’ll be somewhere on the 1-to-10 scale.

Even more importantly, as your client announces reasons why he’s at 4 instead of 3, he’ll begin explaining his own reasons for being interested in investing.  He’ll move from defending his behavior to articulating why he wants to move forward.  This positive-interrogation allows your client to clarify his personal motives for being interested in the investment opportunity.

When he clarifies his own actions and searches through his reasons for being interested, it may bring you closer to closing the deal.  At least, it may provide you with better reasoning of why he’s hemming and hawing.  Perhaps the building is too expensive and the best solution is finding another building, or maybe he’s concerned with property management and you can do some footwork to find a good management team.