Monday, December 17, 2012

Asking Questions : Learn from the pros how to do it right.


100 years ago when I first arrived in Washington, D.C., my first job was that of a field canvasser for the national office of a long standing environmental non-profit lobbying organization.

The office at that time was on Capitol Hill and every week day afternoon, and one Saturday a month, I and my fellow canvassers would load into a large van and then be driven to one of the many suburbs of Virginia and Maryland outside of DC. 

Once there, we would go from door to door soliciting donations, signatures on a petition and getting concerned folks to write letters to their elected officials.

I was in my early twenties then and it was a time in my life when I found the work rewarding. It was for a cause that I believed in (and still do), it was certainly challenging work and – at the end of the day – it was actually fun. 

I stayed with the job for a few years and I made some wonderful friends with whom I am still close to today some twenty plus years later. I also can honestly say that I spent several years of my younger days working for a great cause.

Today, when the conversation turns to “jobs I once had” and I mention my door to door experience, many simply can’t fathom going up to the front door of a total stranger, ringing the bell and asking whomever answers for a donation and a signature on a petition.

Despite their aghast expressions, I tell them that out of the many important things that I learned how to do - and how to do well - from that work experience was how to communicate.


Trust me when I tell you that you’ll have little success walking up to a complete stranger’s door and leaving with a donation check from that person unless you know how to engage them. That means learning how to ask the right questions in the right manner, how to listen to their response and how to recognize visual clues that will lead you to the results you seek.

To this day, whether I’m working with clients, brainstorming with other creative professionals or simply chatting with peers, the lessons that I learned from those years spent going door to door have a very present and positive influence upon the way I communicate.

I promise that I’ll expand upon those methods in a future post, but in the interim, a great start would be to read this well written article that I came across this morning via a tweet from Fast Company titled
“The One Conversational Tool That Will Make You Better At Absolutely Everything”.

It contains some very good points about what to do and what not to do when asking questions. These pointers will serves you well no matter what kind of Q and A session in which you may find yourself engaged.

In fact, it was the reading of the article that sent me on my little trip down memory lane this morning when I recognized that I used to use some of the very same methods referenced within it when I was working as a canvasser.

And I still use them today.

If you have any upcoming situations where asking questions and listening to answers will become a major factor, do yourself a favor and read the article.

The wise words will serve you well.

1 comment:

Frederic R . Abramson said...

It was great working with you 100 years ago. Like you, I still use the skills that I learned from canvassing but in my law practice. Keeping it short and simple when speaking to a judge at a court conference, targeting for a specific amount when a new client comes through the door. Like you, the most important aspect of the experience in terms of relating to my practice was the importance of creating a connection. I remember making silly comments like "Nice Velvet Elvis" which were important to establish an rapport which often led to a donation. Nice post Michael!