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How Do Open Questions Influence Our Brains?

One of the first lessons we learn in sales is the importance of asking open-ended questions. These questions are obviously designed to get the prospect talking, allowing us to engage them in a meaningful conversation. This strategy is logical and widely accepted in sales, but have you ever wondered about the science behind it?

Well let’s start with the obvious questions: Why did we develop the need to ask open-ended questions?

Firstly, it’s a huge part of what makes us human. Our ability to communicate, think deeply, and interact socially all play into why these questions became so important. Open-ended questions help us have deeper, more meaningful conversations, which are key to building and maintaining relationships.

All forms of human societies run on cooperation and social connections, which are strengthened through quality communication. By asking open-ended questions, we get a better read on other people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations, making us more empathetic and improving social harmony. These kinds of questions are also super useful for solving problems and coming up with new ideas. They let us gather detailed information to tackle complex issues and spark creative thinking.

When it comes to learning and teaching, open-ended questions are essential. They help us dive into concepts, encourage critical thinking, and build knowledge, especially in educational settings. Asking these questions helps everyone, especially children, develop cognitive and language skills. The Theory of Mind tells us that understanding and asking open-ended questions are crucial for figuring out and predicting behaviour. Robin Dunbar’s Social Brain Hypothesis (1998) points out that our complex social lives pushed the evolution of bigger brains and better communication, including asking open-ended questions.

Research into language evolution shows that as our syntax and grammar got more sophisticated, we could ask a wider range of questions. Looking at modern hunter-gatherer societies, we see how open-ended questions help with cooperation, sharing knowledge, and learning from each other, hinting that these practices have deep evolutionary roots.

What affect do open-ended questions have on our brains?

Open questions, which are meant to get more detailed and thoughtful answers, really get the brain working. They make us dig up information, put it all together, and come up with clear responses, tapping into the part of the brain that handles complex thinking. These questions also get our memory networks going, as we often have to recall past experiences and stored knowledge to answer them. Plus, open questions spark creative thinking, helping us generate a lot of different ideas and engaging the parts of our brain linked to imagination and daydreaming.

When these questions touch on personal experiences or opinions, they engage the emotional parts of our brain, leading to deeper self-reflection and a better understanding of our feelings. They also boost neural plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form new connections and adapt, making it great for learning new things. Successfully answering open questions or having new insights releases dopamine, the brain’s feel-good chemical, encouraging us to keep engaging in these activities.

So how is this helpful when selling?

Open-ended questions ultimately engage the customer’s higher order thinking processes, making them reflect on their needs and desires more deeply. As an example, when a customer is asked an open question, like “What impact will that have on the business?”, it requires them to think critically about their situation, think into a future state and then articulate it clearly. This not only gives you valuable insight but also helps build a stronger connection as they feel heard and understood.

These types of questions can activate emotional responses and memory networks. Asking questions that touch on a customer’s past experiences or future aspirations can make them feel more emotionally invested in the conversation.

This also encourages a more interactive and engaging conversation. They make the customer an active participant in the conversation rather than a passive recipient of your ‘pitch’. This dynamic can make the sales process feel more personalised and less like a hard sell, which can increase the customer’s comfort level and trust in you.

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