Strategies for Difficult Conversations – Part VI

While sitting with a small group of committed, engaged and effective salespeople enjoying a lively discussion about how to inspire conversations, someone shared: “But it’s so hard when no matter what question you ask, they give you a one-word answer.” Someone else quickly added, “Yeah, I ask lots of open-ended questions but more and more all I get back is a ‘yes’ or ‘sometimes’ or ‘sure’. I find it really difficult and incredibly awkward.” This is a relatively new phone communication challenge. If you haven’t encountered it yet, you will, and it’s valuable to know why it’s happening and what to do to inspire conversation.

What’s causing an increase in one-word answers to open-ended questions? What words or phrases might result in longer answers?

Texting is at the foundation of this communication challenge. For individuals who spend the majority of their time “talking” with others by text, long answers are not their preference. The pattern of texting is short-quick-send, short-quick-read, short-quick-send, etc.

Certainly some people send longer responses but, for the most part, texting is fast and involves few words. Not only that, there may never be a flow. I might text you. You might reply 30 minutes later. I might answer in an hour, and so on. Words are exchanged but the conversation is jagged. It doesn’t require the same level of engagement as a vocal conversation.

So when you find yourself asking great open-ended questions of someone and only receiving one- or two-word answers, know that you’re likely dealing with someone whose main method of communication is texting. To engage them in conversation you need to do two things:

  1. Use what I call the universal open-ended question, which is “Tell me more”.
  2. Wait patiently. There will be silence and you’ll be tempted to fill it … but don’t. Remember, they are not accustomed to having vocal conversations. Give them time to think and to find the right words to provide an answer. They will be uncomfortable and your patience will be accepted as encouraging and supportive.

This will be occurring more often in all our lives. While it’s tempting to say that it’s connected to one’s age, I haven’t found that to be true. There are individuals from every generation who have embraced texting over other types of communication. Know that their one-word answers are a sign for you to ask a different question, to be patient and to get comfortable with more silence on the phone.

What about you? When you ask questions on the phone, how do you deal with one-word answers? Share your strategy in the comment section below.





Closing a sale is the natural outcome of inspiring great conversations and listening intently to our potential customers.

This natural approach still involves a process – a plan that moves potential customers through a journey of discovery with you. So ... what's your process? And am I the right sales coach for you? Let's find out.

2 thoughts on “Strategies for Difficult Conversations – Part VI”

    • Thanks, Steve. Change is constant and it is difficult to notice everything. Of course, it helps to continually have conversations with others about their experiences on the phone – and otherwise. I think even face-to-face conversations are experiencing major shifts.


Leave a comment

When you subscribe to my weekly blog, you'll immediately get my detailed ebook The Why and How of Following-up featuring my best advice plus examples of success you can duplicate.


What's The Phone Lady doing?


  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
  • Team and individual coaching with a national moving company to refine their sales process
  • Remote half-day training for provincial tourism representatives
  • Remote seven-part sales training program for US-based SaaS
  • Remote webinar on accounts receivable communication for industrial-services company
  • Remote webinar on validation to college students in entrepreneur program
  • In-person workshop on job search skills for women in the trades
  • Remote half-day webinar on written correspondence to customers

Do you or your team want to improve your communication skills? Do you have a communication question or challenge you'd like to discuss? This quick-to-fill-out form is easy to use and you'll hear from Mary Jane very soon.