5 Ways to Shake Up How You Think About Questions

By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA | kbarlow@barlowmccarthy.com

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” — Tony Robbins

“I just want a precious few minutes…” Field staff crave time with prospective physicians and it gets harder and harder to come by. When the meeting happens, you generally have two choices: 1) Tell them all you want them to know, or 2) Ask a good question and hope for a meaningful conversation now or later.

Which choice defines you today?

The internal pressure is to tell. But, we need a little information gathering to uncover what they want to know. Think back to your teenage years to recall a parent telling something we did not much care about hearing. That’s a good yardstick of value!

So what are the hallmarks of good questioning? What elements allow you to advance the relationship in a meaningful way and set the stage for relationships with intent?

  1. Good questions engage. We’re all aware that nobody wants to be sold. The art of a conversation, where they share and you respond, allows you to learn and customize your topics to draw them in. We learn how they think and make choices. The key to good questions is what we say and how we say it.
  2. Good technique is planned. The good field rep starts more general and then gradually shifts to more specific questioning. This isn’t luck or talent, this is planned. The field rep plays the role of guiding the conversation in a relaxed and yet very much controlled encounter.
  3. The best questions are short, simple and easily understood. These are the questions that solicit more conversation. If you know you’re prone to too much talking in the visit, or that you have a tendency to talk to think, write down what you want to ask and work to tighten the questions. It takes discipline, but truly less is more. “With so many older patients, I have to believe cancer diagnosis is frequent. What cancer type are you managing most?”
  4. Don’t just ask what’s broken. While this generally solicits a lot of response, the issues are too often not solvable. If you are trying to grow referrals this can put you in the position of, “ Yep, I know we are pretty messed up but now let me tell you why you should want to send us more…”  Issues will come up and you need to address them. But, consider questions that frame solutions, topics of interest, patient specific expectations and the expectations of the physician to effectively move the referral needle.
  5. Win-win. Don’t put the doctor on the spot with your questions. Be thoughtful and give them a way out. Think about their personality and how comfortable they are with exposing their referral process. Frame your questions to let them know others are sharing this type of detail. “Other pediatricians mentioned they have had lots of interest from the new cardiologist and Competing Hospital. I assume the same is true for your busy practice?”

Good questions can help us understand the personal reasons behind their current referral patterns and it can help us gauge what it will take for the doctor to make a change. Field relationships should be rewarding for the organization, the rep, the doctor and the practice.

Each day we get the chance to stretch our skills to make sure meaningful relationships happen. It’s one of those areas where we may never get it perfect, but the intentional journey gives us measurable success.