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Ask, Don't Tell

By Joseph Henmueller


Editor's Note: Today we have a guest blogger - Joseph Henmueller. Joe and I worked together at Midas for many years and I knew that with his knowledge and experience he would have some awesome words of wisdom. Joe has led some great organizations and done a lot of writing over the years and we are lucky to have him contribute to our community.


A long time ago, I was in a telephone training class. It was there that I learned one of the best pieces of advice that I would ever receive: No matter how busy, never answer the phone this way, “Los Pollos Hermanos, Hold please.” Whether I was back on the line in two minutes or two seconds, the caller was already angry, mostly because they were so quickly placed on hold. It was a near-zero chance of making that sale. The trainer’s advice: Always ask permission.

From then on, even during the busiest circumstances, I learned to say, “Los Pollos Hermanos, May I put you on hold, please?” and waited for permission. Forever after, when I picked the call back up, the customer was disarmed and ready for earnest conversation. Asking almost always yields a positive response and puts the customer in control.

As a manager, I train staff to never tell a customer what we are going to do for them, instead to sincerely ask if we may do something for them. Example: “We offer a complimentary safety inspection. May we inspect your vehicle?” This always leads to customers being more receptive to suggested service offerings.

I’ve learned that this approach also helps me manage employee development. Previously, I would assess our training needs and assign training goals as part of our regular employee review process. Too often, this resulted in resistance and unmet goals. Then I started asking employees about what types of training they would like to take – instead of telling them which courses they needed to take.

Empowering them to make some choices offered a wealth of insight. Primarily, it showed me where the employees’ interest was highest. In most cases, it indicated what the employee saw as their next step or role within the organization.

We also found that many employees gravitated towards some very basic courses. At first, I thought these might be the weakest members of our team. Instead, I learned more about the team and the benefits this course provides. For example, taking courses on how to improve test-taking skills builds confidence and helps accelerate the learning process.

Once, I questioned one of our better diagnostic technicians as to why he wanted to take such a basic level training course. He admitted that the software in our diagnostic tools often led him to the correct repair procedure. He was particularly good at following the prompts and reading the flow charts but admitted he wanted and needed a better understanding of how the system worked to help him move his skills forward.

I doubt that my managerial instincts would have told him to take the courses he chose. Just another case where asking, rather than telling, helped produce a more positive outcome for the employee and me as his manager.

So, with your permission, I’d like to ask if you would be interested in integrating an Ask, Don’t Tell strategy into your managerial process. What do you think?

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