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Over the years, I’ve been known to host events called Scotch Night at my office, where I invite a few Mixergy listeners to join me for a drink and conversation. I remember one particular evening well. Sitting on tall chairs around a long table, few paid attention to the variety of Scotch bottles I put out. It was all about the conversation. Each founder was eager to hear what was working at other companies, so the group was boisterous.
After an hour, a founder that the group called “College” (because he was still in school and not old enough to drink) asked, “Andrew, do you ever have a guest who won’t say anything about their financials? How do you get them to be so open?” Everyone quieted down. As information hunters, it was something they also wanted to learn.
“Yeah,” I said. “A few days ago, Shradha Agarwal, founder of ContextMedia, which does health videos for waiting rooms, wouldn’t tell me anything about her revenue. I wasn’t trying to pry—I just needed a sense of how big her company was so the audience could understand what we were talking about. She wouldn’t give me anything.”
“What’d you do?” he asked.
“I threw out a number that was absurdly low for her. I asked, ‘Are you doing at least a million dollars in sales?’ Instantly I felt her aggravation. She shot back, ‘We’re doing 20 or 30 times that!’ That gave me my answer.”
It worked because I lowballed her dramatically. I gave her a number that was almost an insult to the years of work and the amount of pride she had. Instinctively, she felt the need to correct the record.
College smiled when I explained that. He learned something he could use for getting partners for his side hustle. Then we moved on to random Scotch Night conversation, like my enjoyment of running.
“Are you still running?” College asked me.
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“Yeah, I run a bit,” I said modestly and tried to change the subject.
“Did you ever think about building up to a five-mile race?” he asked.
“Five miles? I do more than that when I run to this office every morning. I ran more marathons than I can count.”
College didn’t say anything, but I could see he was holding back a smile. Eventually, everyone else at the table started laughing.
It took me a moment. Then I realized what happened. College used a dramatic lowball on me. I laughed too.
But secretly, I was happy to share. Running is my passion. I’m proud of how far I can run, but I feel awkward talking about it because it feels like I’m boasting. So if you ask me about my running, even though I want to tell you about it, I’ll hold back. The dramatic lowball gave me the push I needed. It made it OK for me to talk about something that I would otherwise hold inside.
As an interviewer, I noticed that people are taught from an early age not to brag, so they resist talking about their achievements. Our job as interviewers is to encourage them to do it. The dramatic lowball does that.
In fact, the dramatic lowball is so effective that I try not to use it in interviews. I don’t edit my interviews, and I don’t want to trick anyone into publicly releasing something they’re not ready to share. So I reserve the technique for the conversations I have before interviews start.
You can hear how I used it with the heavily bearded Chris Stoikos, founder of Dollar Beard Club (since renamed The Beard Club), a men’s grooming supplies company. During the pre-interview, I asked Chris if he was doing $1M in revenue. “No,” he shot back.
He was doing nearly $1.5M every month.
I asked him what payment processor he used.
“Can you do a screen share of Stripe to show me?” I asked.
So Chris logged in and showed me. He shared multiple dashboards, as if to prove how wrong my revenue guess was.
Afterward I was worried Chris regretted telling me. He said he didn’t. He even gave me permission to publish both his revenue and the whole conversation we had before the interview. He was comfortable being open if it meant having more bearded men discover his grooming supplies.
caution Use the dramatic lowball technique with care. It can lead to such quick results that it can startle the person you’re speaking with. Remember, our goal is to help people be open so we can learn from them.
Listen: The Dramatic Lowball
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