Rules for CORE Agents #22: When You’re Afraid of the Answer to a Question, Ask it!

We all know people whose lives would be immensely better if they would just ask a tough question.  Maybe you know a woman who is eager to get married and start a family, but she’s in a long-term relationship with a guy whom you suspect is just stringing her along with no long-term intentions. And she waits year after year for him to pop the question, when what she should be doing is asking him a question: namely, “are you going to marry me or should I just move on with my life?”

This kind of “question avoidance” happens all the time.  People don’t confront spouses that they suspect of cheating.  They don’t ask their kids if they’re sexually active, or on drugs.  They don’t ask their bosses if they’re going to get a raise.

They don’t ask the questions because they’re afraid of the answer. They suspect that they’re going to get bad news, so they keep putting it off as long as possible so they can extend the fantasy they have that everything is okay.  The girlfriend doesn’t ask her boyfriend if he’s ever going to propose to her, because she’s afraid he’s going to tell her that he isn’t.  Spouses don’t want to confirm their suspicion of infidelity. Parents don’t want to confront the reality that their kids might be in trouble.

In all these cases, of course, people would be better off knowing, but they’d all rather avoid the confrontation and maintain the fantasy that everything is going to work out.  If they ask the question and get the bad news they suspect is coming, it will pop the bubble of denial that they’re living in.

Real estate agents do this all the time.  They shy away from asking tough questions because they’re afraid of the answers.  They don’t ask buyers if they’re working with other agents.  They don’t ask sellers if they’re prepared to sign contracts at an appointment. They don’t ask clients whether they would be willing to write testimonials. You need to ask those questions, even if they’re uncomfortable for you.

Indeed, it’s the very fact that you’re afraid of the answer should alert you to your need to ask the question.  You absolutely need to know whether this buyer that you’re schlepping around all day is stepping out with other agents.  You definitely need to know if the seller is serious about signing a contract. And you certainly want to know whether your client is happy with her experience with you.

It’s bad enough when people shy away from confrontations in their personal lives.  You can’t do it in your professional life.  Living in denial is no way to live.


This post is part of a series of what I call the “36-1/2 Rules for Client-Oriented Real Estate Agents,” a collection of short takes on the CORE concept that I’ve developed over the years of discussing and teaching the system.  We’ll count up to the 36th rule over the next few months, and then the 1/2 rule.  You can get the full list of rules by clicking on the “36-1/2 Rules for CORE Agents” category on the blog – scroll from the bottom if you want to read them in order.