August 18, 2019
When and how to answer rhetorical questions
A good salesperson answers questions. Questions are usually objections that can be overcome, such as "does this product come in blue?" The answer is "Yes, how many would you like?"
But not all questions are questions, if you follow me here. Some are statements, which are called "rhetorical questions". These are statements made by people who are too timid to come right out and say something, but it doesn't take much to figure out what they're saying. An example might be "Why does this product cost so much?", which means "The product costs too much". And an answer about how the most expensive ingredients are used will just provoke them. This type of question doesn't want an answer, it wants confirmation. If you fail to do that, you will have an angry customer on your hands who thinks that you're arguing with them. The proper response is to agree. "Yes, this product is expensive." After that you can get back to explaining, but only then.
I really hadn't given much thought to rhetorical questions until I started teaching computer software. And the question that really got me going was, "How come we gotta do this stuff?" This is a plaintiff cry from someone who is frustrated, and simply want to not do that stuff, whatever it is. They're too timid to say, "I don't want to do this stuff!", but really that's what they're saying. For them, a sympathetic look is about the best you can do. But if you're in a group, like a classroom, it's an opportunity to answer a question that many people genuinely have.
If someone in, for example, a Photoshop class, asked "how come we gotta do this stuff?", after my sympathetic glance, I would smile and say, "I'm glad that you asked that!" They would of course groan and fall back in their chair, but the rest of the group would listen. Photoshop is the software program used by professional graphic designers, etc., etc. Yes, of course I knew that it was a rhetorical question, but in a group I would use it as a springboard to talk about it.
We've all seen terrible speakers, and salespeople - they don't answer questions, they simply go on talking with some kind of prepared speech. And that's just awful, because if people wanted to listen to a prepared speech they'd watch a video. In real life, questions can be answered, even rhetorical ones.
Posted by Brad Hall