The other day, my friend Joe informed me he was just was diagnosed with prostate cancer. For those of you uninformed with this form of cancer, it can be treated successfully, if caught early. Joe is a healthy guy with no chronic issues. He just went to the bathroom, one day, and found he had trouble urinating. A week later, his PSA score was over 100 (a normal PSA is < 1 but does increase with age), three weeks later the number was almost 160, and the biopsy results told Joe he had a Gleason score of 9 (it only goes up to 10). It is an aggressive cancer. Worse, it had metastasized into his lymph.

I went to see Joe. My first question was: “How are you feeling?”

“What a dumb ass question,” he said. “I am feeling like crap, and I’m depressed and worried. Do you know what the treatment is for prostate cancer? I’ll never be the same? How will I be able to work? What if my manager hears about this. They will fire me! And, Susan (his wife) will probably leave me”. And then he started to cry. He and I had been friends for a long time, but I had no clue how to console a crying male friend. Now I know those questions we ask can have a negative impact.

“Well, let’s not focus on that right now. Plus I do not think a company can fire you for getting sick”. I said as I tried to change the subject, “Tell me how it happened? How did you know you had this problem?”

”Listen, Will, you are a friend of mine,” he said wiping the tears from his eyes. “But I do not want to talk to you now.” And with that, I left wondering what I did wrong.

I was a concerned friend. I wanted to help. I wanted to know what I could do for him. And all I did was make a bad situation worse; I did not help my friend.

A day or two passed, I called, “Joe,” I said, “How are you doing? How are you feeling?” Joe laid into me. “How the crap do you think? Will, I know you are concerned and want to help. STOP ASKING ME HOW I AM FEELING”.

There was a long pause on the phone. I did not know what to say. I knew Joe well. He is an easy-going guy. But this is a different person today. He is understandably upset, angry and depressed.

Joe then came back on the line and told me something which I will never forget:

“When you ask me how I feel you are giving strength to the disease. Every time you bring up this cancer, the treatment, and how I feel, gives it power. I do not want to give this cancer one ounce of power. I want to kill it. I want it gone from my body. Every time you ask me about this I get angry and depressed because you remind me of the disease and the long road of treatment ahead. That takes away my strength and my mental focus, and I need both. So, if you can not stop asking questions that give power to the disease, and not me, then stop calling.”

Sometimes in our conversations, we forget about the impact our questions have on others. Joe is my friend, I was concerned, and I wanted to help. But Joe’s “take away” was entirely different from my intention. By asking those types of questions, I was, in fact, hurting him, adding to his stress, and unconsciously working against his efforts.

In business, it is the same story. We feel empowered to ask any business-related question we want. After all, we are there to help. Right? So often we plunge ahead and fail to see the impact we’ve caused. In Joe’s case, I created a negative emotional impact. Questions do have consequences.

Learn from your business prospects what is fair to discuss. From an earlier blog on Listening Skills, I give you a few ideas how to improve on your listening and observing skills. Watch for those body language clues. If they just lost that big contract maybe it is not the best time to bring up how business is doing or why they lost the deal. Resist joining the “Should” family. These are people who think they are helping by telling you what you need to do and chastising you for the steps not taken. However, the “Should” family are not out done by the “Know-it-Alls.” Similarly, these folks view themselves as subject matter experts, on all subjects.

When the phone system and the website break down, it is not the best time to ask questions that sound like an “I told you so” routine. Look and listen for real clues of how and where you can help them with the challenges they face. Be a fountain and not a drain. The clues are there, in their body language, tone, in the eyes and verbal expressions. Just like our grandmothers told us, “Consider the other person before you speak.”

If you liked this blog, please share on social media. If you are a struggling business owner, sales manager or a sales professional looking to considering a sales coach, let’s talk. I am Will Harley, with Harley-Consulting, a growth services company. With over 20 years of business leadership experience, I leverage my experience to help owners achieve their goals. Sign up just to talk. Leave a comment; I promise to reply immediately.