I promise, this is my last “the Disney Institute presentation by Jeff Williford at the LMA annual conference was so awesome” post. At Disney World/Disneyland, the #2 question asked is “What time does the 3 o’clock parade start?” It sounds like a silly question, until you think about the question behind the question. The question being asked is really:

  • “What time will the parade reach this point on the parade route?” or
  • “Do I have time to run my daughter to the bathroom before the Princesses arrive?” or
  • “Will my family make it across Main Street and reach me before they put the barriers up?”

By listening for the question behind the question, we can get to the true need of the client. And thereby get to a solution that actually meets their unspoken (business) concerns. It’s not “How much is this going to cost me per hour?” but “Will I be able to justify these costs to my CFO?” It’s not: “Do you offer alternative fee arrangements?” but “This is a huge risk for me … how can we ensure it’s a win-win for us all?” It’s not “What will it take to settle the case?” but “What can we do to keep this out of the press and from tanking our stock prices?” There’s always talk of the 80/20 rule, and it applies here as well. You should be listening 80% of the time and talking only 20% of the time. RESIST the urge to jump in and answer the question before it has been asked. Be QUICK to hold back your solutions until you have a true understanding of what is keeping the client up at 3:00 a.m. In fact, RESIST the urge to answer the question until you have determined what the “question behind the question” is.