Disclaimer: I have a profound appreciation for the art of sales. I truly believe that successful, honest salespeople are among the most gifted orators on the planet. It is also my conviction that the vast majority of sales professionals uphold honesty. However, we’ve all encountered that small subset of less-than-honest salespeople at some point. This week’s newsletter is dedicated to equipping you with the knowledge to safeguard yourself from this unscrupulous group.

Let me start by setting the scene. An eye-opening study has unveiled that when it comes to selling products with defects, sellers often choose to keep mum about those issues, and this deceptive practice occurs in a whopping 40% of cases. That’s right, a staggering 4 out of every 10 people you encounter may not be entirely forthcoming about the true condition of their goods. But fear not, because I’m here to equip you with the savvy to unearth the unvarnished truth from sellers. But before we embark on this enlightening journey, let’s take a closer look at the study itself.

A few hundred individuals were invited to take part in a rather unique experiment. They were tasked with haggling over the sale of a used iPod. Their story? These iPods had been received as gifts, but with their hearts set on an iPhone, they decided it was time to part ways with their trusty iPods. These gadgets were, for the most part, in decent shape, with one minor glitch—they had experienced two instances of freezing, requiring a reset to factory settings and the unfortunate loss of all the cherished music. While this hiccup had only occurred twice, the nagging uncertainty of when it might strike again hung ominously in the air.

Each participant was then entrusted with the mission to sell their iPod online and engage in negotiations with potential buyers. Here’s the twist: these potential buyers weren’t shy about asking some probing questions, such as, “What can you tell me about the iPod?” or the more direct, “It doesn’t have any problems, does it?”

The results, my friends, were nothing short of discouraging. When posed with the inquiry, “What can you tell me about the iPod?” a mere 8% of sellers chose to disclose any issues. Even when confronted with the straightforward question, “It doesn’t have any problems, does it?” only 60% decided to come clean about the device’s history of untimely crashes. Essentially, a staggering 4 out of every 10 buyers were potentially on the verge of acquiring a problematic iPod. Not an ideal scenario by any means.

Now, you may be wondering, why the secrecy? And why didn’t direct questions expose these issues? Well, it all boils down to the psychology of it. The question, “What can you tell me about the iPod?” conveniently allowed sellers to focus on the positives, with no direct inquiries about potential problems. Why raise the red flag, right?

But what about the question, “It doesn’t have any problems, does it?” Shouldn’t that encourage sellers to discuss any issues? Indeed, it did lead to a 60% increase in issue disclosures. However, this question presupposes that there are no problems, signaling to the seller that the buyer assumes everything is shipshape. Consequently, sellers might hold back on revealing problems, assuming that the buyer either believes there are none or is hesitant to confront the issue head-on. Essentially, the buyer is unlikely to pursue a more assertive line of questioning.

So, what’s a discerning buyer to do to elicit honesty? Change the question.

When buyers changed their approach and asked, “What problems does it have?” the scenario underwent a dramatic transformation. Sellers became 50% more likely to confess to existing issues. But why, you ask? Here’s where it gets truly fascinating. Negative assumption questions convey something unique about the buyer. Rather than being oblivious to potential issues or avoiding them, negative assumption questions signal that the buyer acknowledges the possibility of issues and is assertive enough to inquire about them.

This enlightening study highlights that questions don’t just seek information; they also unveil it. They reveal insights into our knowledge, assumptions, and even our assertiveness. In this light, the questions we pose don’t just influence how we’re perceived but also impact the honesty of the answers we receive. While some individuals might still choose to bend the truth, they’re far less likely to do so when they sense someone might catch them in the act.

Feeling hungry for more examples of asking the right type of question? Look no further:

1.) “Have you ever had any customer complaints about this product?”

2.) “Is there any reason you wouldn’t recommend this restaurant?”

3.) “Have you encountered any issues with this software?”

4.) “Are there any drawbacks or limitations to this service?”

5.) “Can you tell me if there have been any accidents involving this vehicle?”

Remember, be direct, show awareness of the potential for negative information, and phrase your questions assertively to keep uncovering the truth until it’s in plain sight.

Stay tuned for more enlightening insights from Jake’s Mind Lab. Until next time, Jake out. <mic drop>