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Questions show passion, not doubt

I was recently contacted by someone to contribute to a project they’re working on. It was a well-connected and well-respected person whose work I’ve followed for years, so naturally I was quite excited by the inquiry.

The initial email was a bit sparse — describing the project in just a couple sentences — and while it clearly indicated the fee, there was only a bulleted list of the expected deliverables with no elaboration. A few of the deliverables didn’t even seem to be relevant for the kind of work that I do.

Eager to work with this person, and hoping to make a positive impact on the project, I wrote back the same day expressing my interest, as well as my desire to clarify a few points. Three days later I got a response with an offer to hop on the phone to discuss. Given a significant time difference between us, I proposed a scheduled time and provided my phone number. Another three days later, I got a response that the person would call me the next day (at a not agreed upon time)…when I would unfortunately be on a flight. I explained that I would be unavailable and proposed another time to chat.

Yet another five days later, I received a two-line email from this person apologizing for the difficulty in connecting via phone — and aggressively urging me to commit to the project despite having never answered my questions. A threat to find another contributor was also included.

I wrote back immediately reinforcing my interest in participating, but expressing that I could not commit without further clarification on some key points. Due to this person’s lack of availability, I was encouraged to submit my questions via email. In my biggest regret of this exchange, it took me two days to compile the comprehensive list of questions and shoot them over.

Fourteen days later, still no response. I sent a short follow-up.

The same day, I received this:

I think we ran out of time. Sorry about that! Don’t worry about it. Thanks anyway! All the best.

I was utterly perplexed and quite a bit disappointed. Feeling justified, I wrote back less than five minutes later, contentiously expressing my dissatisfaction with having my questions go unanswered only to be passed over for the gig. I wasn’t too diplomatic about how I said it.

Within minutes, the person responded with a much more regretful tone and warmer apology, explaining that the whole idea of using a consultant had been scrapped. I felt like an ass for having been harsh, still disappointed that I hadn’t been able to find out the details of the project and reinforce what I could bring to the table.

But upon reflection, I realized a pattern that I’ve seen in other situations, leading me to want to share this story. Sometimes when a prospect approaches you, they just want you to jump at the opportunity and immediately say yes. Those people do not really value who you are and what you do. When you ask for clarification on something, they see it as a sign of lack of enthusiasm or appreciation for what they’re offering. But they’re misreading the situation.

Questions show passion, not doubt. The more you want something, the more you want to know about it. The more you value yourself, the more cautious you are before jumping into the unknown. Taking things at face value only shows insecurity and inexperience. Nothing is as it seems. A lot of times it’s much, much better. But only the person who takes the time to investigate the goods can truly determine its value.

Don’t mistakingly believe than an intense desire is indicated by an immediate response. If you feel like you’re being rushed, question the person’s motives and trust your gut. Take your time, ask the important questions, and don’t be afraid to lose out in the now — you’ll win in the long run.

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  • http://www.thatmakessenseblog.com Amy

    Agreed! I once interviewed for a really cool gig (back when I was in video production) that would require picking up and leaving the city within days of hire, with the potential of being on the road for weeks or months. I asked many questions during the interview, which led the hiring folks to believe that I was doubtful about the job and would possibly back out at the last minute. They hired the person who asked nothing, who…yes…backed out at the last minute. When they called me back in, I was mentally and intellectually prepared for the gig. Asking questions is a sign of engagement. I trust curious people.

  • rickg

    Absolutely. And it's shows interest and engagement and, frankly, a professional attitude. Asking about a project and making sure it's something you can feel confident about delivering shows a consideration for the client.

  • http://twitter.com/bhenick Ben Henick

    Your post really resonates – I'm working out of just such a situation with a prospect, after putting a lot of oomph behind the idea that I keep my enthusiasm to myself… since doing more than hinting at it would open the door to a lack of professionalism.

    On the one hand, I appreciate posts like this; not everybody has the experience to see the “signs” that the prospect is searching for pats on the back that are conditions on selling the gig.

    However, what can we – as freelance new media professionals – do to earn the honor of just being asked to build the damn thing on bid approval? Simply talking about it amongst ourselves is a start, but surely more can be done.

  • AjithM

    Good article. I have always experienced, such curious attitude always pays you back in longer run, though you may get disappointed sometimes.