9 Power Questions that Will Help You Build Better Business Relationships


Just a few years ago, globalization was in full swing, and the world seemed to be bursting with an infinite supply of business. All this bounty lulled us into taking our customers for granted, maintains Andrew Sobel—until the economy tanked and shattered the illusion of endless prosperity. Suddenly, the old-fashioned “trusted relationship” started to look good again.

“In this post-Madoff era of unpredictability and suspicion, people are looking for deeper, more intimate, and more engaged relationships—the kind that reduce risk,” says Sobel, author (along with coauthor, Jerold Panas) of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others (Wiley, February 2012, ISBN: 978-11181196-3-1, $22.95) and three other books on long-term business relationships.

“This is true of customers but also vendors, employees, and other business partners,” he adds. “The days of getting in, making money, and moving on to the next guy are over. When times are tough and the future is uncertain, people want to put down roots and partner with people they truly like and trust.”

Bottom line: In today’s markets, the most valuable commodity is the ability to connect with others and rapidly build trust. And that begins by asking the right questions.

“Asking questions and letting people come up with their own answers is far more effective than spouting facts or trying to talk someone into something,” Sobel explains. “Telling creates resistance. Asking creates relationships.”

In his book Sobel explores dozens of questions that light fires under people, challenge their assumptions, help them see problems in productive new ways, and inspire them to bare their souls (which, of course, strengthens the bonds in the relationship).

Here are nine ways questions can transform professional and personal relationships:

  1. • Questions turn one-dimensional, arms-length business relationships into personal relationships that endure for years. “When a relationship is all business and there is no real personal connection, it lacks heart and soul,” says Sobel. “And therefore you are a commodity—a kind of fungible expert-for-hire. A client—or your boss—can trade you out for a new model with no remorse or emotion. But when you’ve connected personally, the situation is transformed because clients stick with people they like. Bosses hold on to team members they feel passionately about. Your expertise and competence get you in the door, but it’s the personal connection that then builds deep loyalty.”Sobel tells the story of a senior partner in a top consulting firm who had to meet with the CEO of a major client. Other consultants were nipping at their heels to get more business from this company. This powerful, confident CEO, who was in his 60s and near retirement, had seen hundreds of consulting reports. At the end of a routine briefing, the senior partner paused and asked the CEO, “Before we break up, can I ask you a question?” The CEO nodded. The partner said, “You’ve had an extraordinary career. You have accomplished so much, starting at the very first rung of the ladder, on the manufacturing floor. As you look ahead—is there something else you’d like to accomplish? Is there a dream you’ve yet to fulfill?”The CEO was nearly stunned. He thought for a moment and replied, “No one has ever asked me that question. No one.” And then he began talking about a deeply held dream he had for his retirement. That question was the turning point in building a long-term, deeply personal relationship with an influential business leader.
  2. • They make the conversation about the other person—not about them. Most of us don’t care what other people think—we want to know first if they care about us. The need to be heard is one of the most powerful motivating forces in human nature. That’s why one of Sobel’s power questions is, What do you think? Another is, Can you tell me more? “There’s an anecdote I love about a woman who has dinner, in the same month, with two great rival British statesmen of the 19th century, Gladstone and Disraeli,” says Sobel. “When asked to compare the two men she says, ‘After my dinner with Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in the world.’ And then she adds, ‘After my dinner with Mr. Disraeli, I felt as though I were the cleverest woman in all of England!’ “When you make the conversation all about you, others may think you are clever,” he adds. “But you will not build their trust. You will not learn about them. You will squander the opportunity to build the foundations for a rich, long-term relationship.”
  3. • They cut through the “blah, blah, blah” and create more authentic conversations. No doubt you can relate to this scenario. A person says, “I want to bounce something off you.” Then, he proceeds to spend ten minutes telling you every detail of a very convoluted situation he is enmeshed in. You do yourself and the other person a favor by getting him to focus on the true kernel of his issue. Simply ask: What is your question? “This is a tough-love question,” admits Sobel. “People will resist it—often strenuously. But you must ask it. It forces them to take the first step toward clarifying what the issue is and what advice they really need from you. You’ll reduce the amount of posturing people do and will move faster toward an authentic conversation.”
  4. • They help people clarify their thinking and “get out of the cave.” The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said that we perceive reality as if we are chained inside a dark cave. In that cave, we see only the blurred shadows of life outside the cave as they are projected on a dark wall at the back. Our understanding of reality is filtered and distorted. By asking a series of questions, Socrates would engage his students’ minds in the learning process. In this way he uncovered assumptions and slowly but surely got to the heart of the issue. The “Socratic Method” is still used at Harvard Business School—and it can enable you to help others see the true reality instead of shadowy representations of it. Instead of saying, “We need to improve our customer service!” Sobel suggests asking: “How would you assess our customer service levels today?” Or, “How is our service impacting our customer retention?” If someone at work says, “We need more innovation,” ask, “Can you describe what innovation means to you? How would we know if we had more of it?” Or if there is a call for more teamwork, ask, “What do you mean when you say ‘teamwork’?”
  5. • They help you zero in on what matters most to the other person. The next time you’re talking to someone and realize you’ve “lost” her—she’s fidgeting, she’s stopped asking questions, maybe she’s sneaking glances at the clock—ask this question: What is the most important thing we should be discussing today? You will instantly connect with what really matters to her—and the conversation that ensues will help her see you as relevant and valuable. “Even if your agenda doesn’t get met, hers will,” asserts Sobel. “And then she will want to enthusiastically reciprocate. In business it’s critical to be seen as advancing the other person’s agenda of essential priorities and goals. When time is spent together on issues that are truly important to both parties, the relationship deepens and grows.”
  6. • They help others tap into their essential passion for their work. One of the highest-impact power questions you can ask is, Why do you do what you do? It grabs people by the heart and motivates them. When they seriously consider and answer this question, the room will light up with passion. Dull meetings will transform into sessions that pop with energy and generate ideas that vault over bureaucratic hurdles and create real impact. “We do things for many reasons,” writes Sobel. “But when you put ‘should’ in front of those reasons, you can be certain all the pleasure and excitement will soon be drained away. No one gets excited about should. In contrast, when you unveil the true why of someone’s work and actions—when you get them to start sentences with ‘I love to’ or ‘I get excited when’—you will find passion, energy, and motivation.”
  7. • They inspire people to work at a higher level. The late Steve Jobs was notorious for pushing employees. He asked people constantly, Is this the best you can do? It’s a question that infused Apple’s corporate culture from the beginning. It’s one that helped revolutionize the desktop computing, music, and cellular phone industries. And it’s one that you can use too—sparingly and carefully—when you need someone to stretch their limits and do their very best work. “Often, we settle for mediocrity when we need to do our best,” reflects Sobel. “Mediocrity is the enemy of greatness. Asking, Is this the best you can do? helps others achieve things they did not believe possible.”
  8. • They can save you from making a fool of yourself. Before responding to a request or answering someone’s question to you, it’s often wise to get more information about what the other person really wants. When a potential employer says, “Tell me about yourself,” you can bore them to tears by rambling on and on about your life—or you could respond by asking, “What would you like to know about me?” When a prospect asks, “Can you tell me about your firm?” the same dynamic applies. Most people go on and on about their company, but the client is usually interested in one particular aspect of your business, not how many offices you have in Europe. Ever seen someone answer the wrong question? It’s painful to watch. Asking a clarifying question can save you huge embarrassment. “A potential client asked me for the names of three references to call,” Sobel tells us. “Instead of running around and drumming up the names, I pushed back, and asked, ‘What particular information are you seeking? Any references I give you are only going to rave about me!’ It turned out the prospect had no interest in actual references. And in fact, had she called my past clients under that pretense, it could have been potentially embarrassing to me for them to make such a big deal about a small speaking engagement. What she really wanted to understand was how other clients of mine had tackled the organizational resistance she was expecting. This question—and the subsequent conversation—turned a small lead for a keynote speech into a major, year-long project.”
  9. • They can salvage a disastrous conversation. Sobel’s coauthor, Jerry Panas, recalls the time he asked a man named Allan for a million-dollar donation to his alma mater’s College of Engineering. Though he knew better, the author failed to gain rapport and explore Allan’s true motivations before jumping in with the big request. When Allan rebuked him for his presumptuousness, Panas realized he had made a serious error. He apologized, left the room, and twenty seconds later knocked on the door and asked the power question, Do you mind if we start over? Start over they did, and Panas ultimately discovered that Allan might indeed be interested in making a gift—but to the University’s theater program, not its engineering program!

“Things like this happen all the time in business—and at home,” reflects Sobel. “Interactions get off on the wrong foot, and someone gets angry or offended or just shuts down. But people are forgiving. They want to have a great conversation with you. Asking, Do you mind if we start over? will disarm the other person and make him smile. That smile will ease the way to a new beginning.”

One of the greatest benefits of becoming a master questioner is that it takes a lot of pressure off us, notes Sobel. It’s a huge relief to know that you don’t have to be quick, clever, or witty—that you don’t have to have all the answers.

“All business interactions are human interactions,” he says. “And part of being human is acknowledging that you don’t know everything about everything—and that you certainly don’t know everything about the other person and her needs. Questions help you understand these things more deeply.

“The right questions unleash a cascade of innermost feelings and vibrant conversations,” he adds. “They help you bypass what’s irrelevant and get straight to what’s truly meaningful. They make people like you, trust you, and want to work with you—and once you’ve achieved that, the battle is already won.”

She Combines Entrepreneurship and her Love of Cuban History to Start a Blog in Havana

Digital Newspaper‘Follow your passion’ is a phrase that may be just overused these days whether it is to get a job or to get ahead in your career. Generally speaking, when someone follows their passion, they seem happier about themselves and have a better outlook on life. It is risky to even say that a passion can turn into entrepreneurship.

Some people may be able to find their passion early on in life, others later on in life and some never find it, or never recognize it.

For Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, she took her interest in Cuban history and has launched her own independent digital newspaper, ‘14ymedio’. ‘14ymedio’ tells about Cuba from inside Cuba and overall, inform the people.


It was not only her interest in Cuba that led her to start a digital newspaper, she has become a critical voice recognized outside of the island because of Generation Y.

A challenge that Sanchez faces is that all mass media are controlled by the state. Furthermore, only independent publications that circulate on the island belong to the Catholic Church. What’s more important is that the internet has become a way for people to express their ideas and share what they care about to keep everyone informed.

Is Law Enforcement Going Too Far?

Police CarsWe all want to feel safe when we walk around the neighborhood; there is no question in that. We expect law enforcement to be there when something happens and to make sure that everyone remains safe. But how far should law enforcement go? Is aggressive force just a little too far? Can there be another way of taking action? Could something have been done differently?

It is these questions and more that are the first reactions when someone hears a story about someone losing their life to law enforcement.

What has been happening lately is that law enforcement has been going too far and as a result, aggressive force has unfortunately killed innocent civilians. These civilians are pleading that they cannot breathe and law enforcement is not responding to what they are saying. Instead, they are using too much force and people are dying because of it.

All family members, especially though, mothers, are affected by the loss of their love ones. They gather to seek justice and get answers as to why the officers performed the actions that they did.

Joining forces with others shows that every issue can be addressed because there are more voices. People become passionate about an issue when they see it reoccurring or it happens to themselves or a loved one. People try not to wait too long to get their voice heard because then they lose the power. Without them having the power, the issue either never gets resolved or goes on the back burner.

So the question becomes, has law enforcement gone too far in some cases?

Santa Muerte Growing Popular in Queens, New York

Santa MuerteReligion means something different for everyone. It not only gives us morals to live by, but it makes us view the world in a unique way. There are traditional religions like Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc, and not as traditional including Non-Denominational and in this case, Santa Muerte or Saint Death. While this is not your typical religion, it is a growing one in Queens, New York.

For many people, Santa Muerte is not very familiar and it may be difficult to understand why people would pray to the dead. Cities like Mexico and New Orleans along with New York are just a few that worship this saint.

The chapel “displays some 80 statues of various sizes of the “white child.” The largest one wears a crown and is dressed in a luxurious red gown.” When approaching the alter, people bring gifts in exchange for their petitions.

The gifts they would bring include tobacco, bread, fruits, tequila and jewelry. For a person’s petition there is a different “Santísima figure for each type of favor. The one dressed in dollar bills guarantees good earnings, the one in white grants healing, the green one offers harmony, and the red one, love. The black one is associated with outlaws and petitions for vengeance.”

The teaching behind Santa Muerte is to give something and then something will be given in return. This makes sense because ultimately in order to get anything, one has to ask first, from a religious point of view. Naturally, some prayers may longer to answer and others may not be answered at all.

Santa Muerte is celebrated in Mexico on August 15th while it is celebrated in New York on the 16th and interestingly, tattoo artists get many requests for an image of Santa Muerte.

Like any religion, it takes years of study and practice to become very devoted and understand the teaching behind it.

Evict a Person Even Though the Former One Is Dead?

Zeynep Osman 2Imagine living a great life with lots of success and not to mention money. Now imagine that your significant other suddenly passes away leaving you, the apartment. Great, right?

That may seem awesome in a way where you are left an apartment, but years later, you are on the verge of an eviction because of your late passing death. Well, there is a bigger problem. Here is what happened to one women in an apartment in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

The passing of the last imperial Ottoman Turks has now “led to a battle over the rent-controlled apartment of an Afghan princess on the Upper East Side.” To back track just a bit, in 1945, Ertogroul Osman, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, moved into the apartment and in 1994, he would have taken the throne if the empire had not been dissolved. Sadly, the empire did, and he spent the next 64 years in the same apartment until he died in 2009 while on a trip to Istanbul with his second wife, Her Imperial Highness Zeynep Osman. What’s interesting is that, Princess Zeynep’s royal family had to flee its home in Afghanistan in the 1920’s.

The building was sold in 2011 for $10.1 million to the new landlord Avi Dishi. Beyond the landlord saying to her, ‘I want you out’ and such, her memories of her home include visits from relatives, heads of state and much more. Though the problem becomes with the lease, like any other property, states all the terms and conditions. In this particular cases, the when the lease expired, the occupancy became month to month and as a result, the landlord was exercising his right to terminate the lease.

The 1970s were a time when changes to rent-control statutes happened. As a result, when it came time for the eviction notice, it was addressed to “E. Osman and G. Osman”. G. Osman was Mr. Osman’s first wife who died in 1985 and Zeynep’s lawyer’s defense, you can’t evict a dead person.

Overall, there has to be reasonable doubt to kick someone out of a residence and not even a ‘just because’ would work because it then violates the tenants right. The question here is, is this even an issue to bring up when one of the parties is already dead? The person will never be able to testify against the landlord for obvious reasons. The question really becomes is how much is this worth pursuing after so many years have already passed?

Too Many Accidents Are Not Being Prevented

Sierra Exif JPEGWith people becoming more aware of what is around them, many are now taking action instead of just talking about it. They are being proactive instead of reactive. They are seeing that something can be done because even with simple tasks are now becoming almost forgetful for some people. Being in a rush has become such a norm these days that people are less likely to slow down and take a moment to see if they have everything.

The issue here is that busy parents are accidently leaving their kids in the hot car while they run to do errands. As a result, the children are dying due to a lack of oxygen and with the windows rolled up, the car gets much hotter.

While protecting the identity of the person, a teen has started a mission to bring more awareness to parents of when they leave their child in the car. The product is called “Hot Seat”. The “Hot Seat” is designed and placed underneath the cover of the car seat and has a sensor on it. The sensor is activated when simultaneously, the “sensor perceives any pressure, and key fob and sensor are more than 40 feet away from each other.”

Naturally with the digital age, there is also an app for the cell phone as well as an alarm that can be attached somewhere outside the vehicle. The alarm outside of the vehicle allows not only the parent to be aware of a child in the car, but also anyone that can pass by and could save a life.

The more people are aware of certain issues, hopefully, more accidents will be prevented.

College, Everyone Should Have the Opportunity to Attend

Graduation mortar on top of booksIt is unfortunate that with the amount of information available to us, that there is a gap in education and many people cannot get it because of one main factor, money. With the rise of housing cost, inflation on goods and services, there is simply not enough money to go around. But fortunately, there are programs today to alleviate this problem. Yet, it does not go unnoticed that this is a problem and money should not stop someone from getting a proper education.

One program in particular is the Upward Bound. In short, the mission of the program is for “Upward Bound — founded as an experimental program in 1964 as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty with a goal of helping students from low-income families get a college education.”

Today, the program has allowed for influential people like “Oprah Winfrey, actresses Viola Davis and Angela Bassett, ABC News correspondent John Quinones, and Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile,” to go through the program.

For any program to be successful, planning has to be well thought out and how to accommodate so many people. Upward Bound holds the local program at college campuses either after-school or weekend sessions.

Getting an education should not be a burden to anyone that wants to attend. Scholarships and grants provide some solution to the problem if money is an issue. With so many influential people and programs to offer solutions, why are so many people struggling and not being able to get the education that they need? What is holding them back? What is the world holding back that could provide for these families? The truth is, we may never know, but can work towards finding a better solution.

Computer Science and Women?

computer scienceIn this ever changing world, industries need to predict what is going to happen in less time than say, a few decades ago. The change from print to digital was slow at first, but now it seems like the way to go to get information. Yes, there are some ‘old’ ways that people are still do things, yet, it does not mean that the ‘new’ is correct either.

Take for example, the computer science industry. When people think of this industry, naturally computers and men come to mind first. Why is that? Well, men do dominate this industry over women and obviously, the industry involves working with computers. Though working with this industry requires a lot of tedious work. It involves coding; fixing the inner workings of a computer, like hardware, software, spyware and the list goes on and on.

With gender neutrality and equality on the rise, there now becomes a push to get women into computer science and technology companies are trying to make that happen.

Google launched a campaign called “Made with Code”. The narrator of the video told girls that, “when you learn to code, you can assemble anything that you see missing”. Girls were given simple coding lessons on how to choreograph dances or design fabrics using the software offered by female techies in the video.

Additionally, Google is partnering with Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that launched in 2012. The nonprofit, “runs summer coding institutes for girls”.

Without going into statistics and trends, it is important to see that companies are making user-friendly programs for girls to understand and hopefully be inspired to get into the computer science industry. However, like anything else in the world, it is ultimately up to the person about what they like and don’t like. There should not be a societal divide in anything, but there is. Many people, however, can appreciate the push that companies are making to get girls into the computer science industry.

Your Pet Can No Longer Get A Tattoo in NY

PetsIs it animal cruelty or showing your pet that you love them? Some acts that you do to your pet may seem completely normal, but to some they may be uncomfortable. Dressing dogs up, for example, is a fashion statement among many pet owners. Other owners may have a small house for them to sleep in as opposed to a simple doggy bed.

Having a pet does bring its unique challenges. In this case, they would have their dog tattooed or pierced. It sounds almost unreal, but people do it for all kinds of reasons.

Yet, being able to do this freely is not expected to stay around much longer. Governor Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law. The law was passed by the New York Senate and Assembly that will ban people from having their pets tattooed or pierced.

The issue was first introduced in 2011 by Assembly member, Linda Rosenthal, but was brought up again this year after a Brooklyn tattoo artist posted a controversial photo on Instagram of his pet pit bull.

People may feel that this is a medical necessity, but it is not and animal rights groups are pleased that the issue is being addressed. Animals are creatures that help us in a time of need or bring us joy, yet are being banned from places like the circus. Similarly, there are exotic animals living right here in New York City. In the end, animal issues are always going to have two sides of every story.

So is this right or should pet owners be allowed to show their pet and others some kind of affection through tattoos and piercings?

Banning Live Animals at the Circus?

circusWhen you think of a circus, what comes to mind? The trapeze acts, musicians, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists, clowns, the trainer, and of course live animals are some of the few things that come to mind. Yet, if you miss one of the components to the circus, what happens?

One thing that you will not be seeing very soon at circuses in Mexico City, Mexico is the use of live animals. Would this ban still make a circus, a circus? Most would argue that it would be and others would that a circus is not a circus without the animals.

Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera of Mexico City, Mexico, is the one that has to sign off on the bill before it becomes law. According to other news sources, the law was approved and “prohibits the use of live wild or domestic animals during the staging of circus performances.” Further, the Federal District Legislative Assembly has already approved the Law on the Staging of Public Shows.

Interestingly, the law only bans the use of wild animals in circus, but not in dolphin shows, theater shows, among others, and any other show that has animals. In this case, the law would prohibit the circuses from presenting, selling or using live animals as prizes.

The essence of a circus comes from who performs in it. After all, it is about tricks, acrobats, and suspense. Without key players involved, what would the act be considered? A play or something else?

It appears to be that the government is trying to take away something that yes, is potentially dangerous, but what makes a circus unique. Banning the live animals from the circus would ruin the fun, excitement and overall originality of what a circus is all about.