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Whether it be in understanding  and meeting customer needs, in evaluating potential candidates for a promotion, in negotiating terms of a contract or indeed in most business situations, a skill I have found to be of great importance is the art of probing.

Probing is your ability to elicit information through a mix of intelligent questioning and careful observation for reactions. The client says the requirement is urgent. Towards the end of a conversation I ask “So you need this by tomorrow?” . ” Yes, yes. That would be perfect.” said the client. ” Shall I bill you at a premium rate for moving this up the priority list?” I ask.” No, no,” says the client” It’s not that important. We can wait for a week or 10 days”. I have my answer. If I hadn’t asked the last question, I would never have known.

In another scenario, a candidate had passed through three earlier rounds of interviews. Something about the way he answered made me go back to the circumstances when he had left his last employer. He had undergone an expensive training program abroad a couple of months ago. The last employer was known to spend big amounts in training people. “Wasn’t there some special clause apart from the usual notice period after all they have invested in you? ” I asked. Almost sheepishly, he agreed there was. He had to work there for a specified time or pay back a certain amount. ” You have been through several rounds of interviews here. Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” I asked. The answer was simple: ” No one asked” he replied.

People may not go out of the way to lie but they won’t go out of the way to volunteer information either. It’s your skill to check out areas where you have doubts by probing to reach the truth.

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This is Post No: 186 of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success