Socrates was a scholar and teacher in ancient Greece. His method is the foundation of most Western systems of logic to this day. He believed that the power of the mind was more important than physical power and aimed to use ideas and dialogue to improve the well-being of society.
The Socratic method is the approach Socrates took to gain and share wisdom. He did not lecture or write about his own ideas. Instead, he claimed he was wise because of his ignorance and lack of ideas. Instead of telling, he focused on asking. Primarily, he asked questions that caused others to progress in their thinking from a problem to a logical conclusion.
These are examples of questions Socrates used to challenge the accuracy and logic of what others claimed and to expand the way they thought about a situation:
- What do we already know about this?
- Why do you say that?
- Why does this matter to you?
- What if your assumption is not accurate?
- What would happen if…?
- How do you know this to be true?
- What is an example of that?
- What evidence is there to support what you’re saying? To support the other side?
- What are some alternatives?
- Why is __ better than __?
- What is the difference between ___ and ___?
- How is ___ affected by ___?
- What causes you to believe this is the best choice?
- Who will benefit from this? Who might be harmed?
- What is likely to happen next if you do this?
Socrates wasn’t trying to win any arguments. He advocated the idea of “following the argument where it leads.” That necessitated good critical thinking and excellent listening skills.
Why adopt this approach? Because it works! People are more likely to believe themselves than anything you’ll tell them. In sales, the Socratic Method is highly effective in getting buyers to see things differently and take action.
What Is the Socratic Method in Sales?
Getting entrenched in a position and refusing to entertain other ideas limits your effectiveness. That's why the Socratic Method is absolutely essential for anyone who hopes to influence others. The Socratic Method is to ask questions so you can better understand your buyer’s position and expose any inconsistencies or contradictions.
The purpose of the Socratic Method is to stimulate critical thinking. We want our buyers to make well-informed, logical choices. At times, that means we have to challenge choices made out of convenience, emotion, or habit. The best way to help them see things differently is to help them come up with their own answers rather than trying to persuade them with our answers and recommendations.
Being purposeful with your questions starts with thinking critically about what you want to achieve. What do you want to know and why? How will you guide your buyer to a heightened awareness and broader perspective? What is it that they’re not realizing and need to?
Using questions, you can explore the customer’s need and their perceptions about the solution(s) they’ve tried in the past. You can discover what’s not satisfactory and how much impact that gap has. You can plant seeds for thinking about alternatives and drawing out contrasts between what’s real and what’s ideal.
Using the Socratic Method, you’ll be extracting what the buyer already knows and helping them to see it in different ways.
Learn more about this technique for critical thinking, how to use it in selling, and why it's also highly valuable any time you want to be more persuasive.
What Skills Are Needed to Effectively Use the Socratic Method?
There are three skills you’ll want to master in order to use the Socratic Method effectively.
- Logical thinking. It’s true that emotions compel action. It’s also true that you need logic to identify what will emotionally engage your buyers. Striking the right balance is your goal, and you won’t be able to do that if you over-rely on emotions or logic alone.
- Asking quality questions. You can learn more about using purposeful questions that advance the sale in three ways. You can read the book that was named by Hubspot as one of “The Top 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time.” You can bring that workshop in for your entire sale team. Or you can access your own training -- the self-paced, on-demand, e-Learning course for individuals is now available here.
- Listening actively and empathetically. Listening actively means processing what you hear and applying critical thinking to understand what’s being conveyed. Listening empathetically means you also pick up on emotional cues and “read between the lines” of what’s being said. Both are important when you’re working to draw something out of someone else.
In addition to mastering these three skills, you’ll also want to work on your intent. If you try to conduct a Socratic dialogue with the intent to manipulate someone, you’ll ask leading questions and over-steer the conversation. It won’t result in shifting the buyer’s perspective, and it will likely cause the buyer to feel backed into a corner. The point is to “follow the argument where it leads” and that means coming into the conversation without preconceived ideas about where you want to take it.
Next Steps for Understanding Why Critical Thinking Is Important for Sales
This is part ten in the series of posts about why and how to build critical thinking skills you can use to excel in selling. Be sure to bookmark the CONNECT2Sell Blog or subscribe to our weekly newsletter so you won’t miss these posts. Each one offers additional ways to build your mental might. If you want to go back and catch up on the ones you’ve missed, just click on this link.