Are you being heard? Are you hearing others? When I advise marketing clients, I ask them to put themselves in a potential customer’s shoes and ask this question. You, too, should ask it anytime you are speaking.

What's in it for me? What's in it for me? What's in it for me?

Others are constantly asking themselves that question as you talk. If you want to truly be heard, you must answer that question.

What is in it for you?

You already know the answer to that question when you are talking. More profit. Less hassle. A feeling of accomplishment. Those are all great things, except that no one else cares.

That is the cruel reality…and it is reality.

What you say: “We are launching a new training program.”

What they are thinking: “What’s in it for me?”

What you say: “Third Quarter profits are up 11%.”

What they are thinking: “What’s in it for me?”

What you say: “This brand new widget took seven years to develop.”

What they are thinking: “What’s in it for me?”

What you say: “I’ll be home at 6:00.”

What they are thinking: “What’s in it for me?” (OK, that might be a stretch, but it is entirely possible. Husbands, you might want to answer that question when you tell your wife when you will be home…trust me, it will go a long way.)

You’d better find the answer to that question or no one will hear you.

To be a better listener

Stop asking that question so often.

It’s a paradox. To be heard, you must assume that your audience is constantly asking that question. To hear, you must stop asking it so often.

In a recent Leadership Freak post, Dan Rockwell offers what he calls the Power listener’s one question:

What do they want me to know, feel, or believe?

In other words, “why are they telling me this?” (And not in a sarcastic way as though they are wasting your time)

If you want more tips on listening better, read my post. Why You Are a Bad Listener and How to Fix It. It covers the mechanics of listening better.

But ultimately, to be a better listener…or more aptly a better hearer, you must start by asking the right question.

What strategies do you use to communicate better? How can these questions help you?

31 thoughts on “The One Question Everyone is Asking

  1. Rich Weekly says:

    Thanks Matt, you are so right, so hard to get away from “ what’s in it for me”. Always
    looking for help to be a better listener, one area I am trying to grow in this

  2. Lily Kreitinger says:

    Definitely key to answer the question for the other person and tailor it to their preferred communication style before they start wondering “So what?”. Example: “We are launching a new training program that will help us reduce cost by 25% and reduce training time by 30%. This will reflect in faster speed to competence by the trainees”.

    1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      spoken like someone that was just trained on personality styles….

      1. Lily Kreitinger says:

        Who, me? ;0)

      2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        yes you…

      3. Kathy Leicester says:

        I love reading posts by people who understand and apply DISC!

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      Amen. I got you there. New training program approved (assuming the cost is lower than the savings.)

  3. Steve Pate says:

    we’ll I had to learn to stop processing to fast to conclude an answer before their done asking their question.

    Being okay to take a moment to think through the question. And being okay to re-ask the question just to make sure I was hearing them right.

    “What’s in it for me?” most of the time, I’m thinking, “Okay what do I need to do for you?”

    1. I was thinking the same thing Steve. We can be sooo self-centered. The world would be so much better if everyone asked the question “What do you need me to do for you”.

    2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      ahhh, taking time, and not being afraid to re ask a question, or ask a follow up question. Good stuff!

      1. Steve Pate says:

        To be honest, some times If I don’t slow down my thinking, I won’t hear the question, so in return that makes me re-ask their question!LOL

    3. Lily Kreitinger says:

      I like that! What can I do for you? Will add to my “better listening” program for this year.

      1. Steve Pate says:


    4. Matt McWilliams says:

      Well said Steve. I have a post coming on a slightly related note actually.

      1. Steve Pate says:


  4. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    I think this was an awesome post matt…sadly I couldn’t really focus on it, because I was trying to figure out if and how it would benefit me in my life…
    What strategies do I use? I really try to shut off the “thinking” side of my brain when the “listening” side is working. What I mean is, I try to not be forming my response while the other person is speaking, rather I try to actually understand what they’re saying (groundbreaking, I know!)
    The bad part is, when I look at how I communicate at home, its definitely sub-par. I think I just get worn out during the day and give up at night…which is ridiculous, because the people at home mean more to me and should get better communication from me, sadly, this isn’t always the case.
    Great post Matt, thanks!

    1. Lily Kreitinger says:

      I was thinking the same thing. I got a “Exceeds expectations” rating at work. I wish I could get the same at home… it’s very hard to do, because we assume that our family should put up with us as we are and we let the guard down. Thanks for the great reminder, Mark.

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        yeah, my wife will comment that I’m nicer to people at church than I am to our daughter or to her…it hits me hard. But sadly, at times, its all too true.

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        I would never treat a paying client like I treat my family sometimes. Sad.

      3. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        exactly. I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels a bit sheepish admitting that… But, I guess if I was perfect I’d probably disappear and end up in heaven like the city of enoch right?? 😉

      4. Kathy Leicester says:

        I’ll bet your family treasures you, Lily! Maybe we need to bring back the gold stars from grade school. Keep a packet taped to the frig, and dole them out to deserving family members. Like: “gold star for taking out the trash, silver star demerit for walking past the dog poop.”

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      Good reminder Mark.

      Believe it or not, I’ve found that my wife likes to be communicated to differently than those I work with. 🙂

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        i dont believe it. I think she probably does want you to email her an agenda for the evening before you head home… haha

  5. Kathy Leicester says:

    Radio station WII-FM, now playing on… every channel.
    The longer I go the more I understand why the Benedictines had to have formal prayer time 7 times a day–we’re all prone to wander from the path and must be deliberate and intentional about coming back. This post was a great effort toward that “pull-back.”
    Because I typically fall short of expectation in every leadership area, I hope that by reading, and repetition, and practice that the right behaviors–like listening properly–will be written on my heart. If I don’t have to remember to listen to my clan’s (tribe’s) WII-FM, but just make it a habit, they will be better off, the team will be happier, more profitable, and more prepared to conquer the universe.
    Like Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I like that blog Bob. Thanks for the link!

  6. Tammy Helfrich says:

    Great post about remembering to emphasize the “why behind the what” when communicating, as well as working to be a better listener.

  7. When you write curriculum you often start with a need, then an objective and then work out (blueprint) how you will meet that objective and need. You take the desired outcome and work backwards planning how you can achieve it. The Rockwell question reminded me of that. If we looked at that – examining what we want the listener to know, feel or believe – then we can tailor our conversation and listening to match. Great thoughts.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That is a good way of turning his question around.

      Rather than asking, “What do I want to say”

      We should ask, “What do they need to hear.”

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