Asking the Hard Questions

blindfoldConfession time: In the past, I was afraid to ask hard questions because I didn’t want people to think I didn’t trust them. I didn’t want them not to like me.  I didn’t want them to think one thing or another about me.

So, I said yes to things that were not in my best interest. Like the guys who flat out ripped me off for $10,000.

It (and many other things like that) happened because I was operating my business and life in the dark.  It was easier not to ask the hard questions.

I didn’t want them to think I didn’t trust them. I didn’t want to make them feel bad. I didn’t want to be unreasonable.  So I kept my eyes closed and dove in to the relationship without looking.

When they said they couldn’t give me references because of confidentiality agreements with their clients, I nodded and smiled because I thought we were on the same page spiritually. And we trusted each other.

What I recognize now is that I was afraid they wouldn’t like me or wouldn’t want to work with me.

As I’ve been doing interviews for LIFT, I’ve discovered a lot of business owners are just like me in this regard.

Men tend to come at it from a slightly different perspective. They don’t ask the hard questions because they don’t want to look stupid as opposed to  not being liked.

What I’ve realized as I’ve been working on LIFT is that being willing to ask the hard questions is part of what it means to be a real deal serious eyes wide open business owner.

I got the opportunity to test this recently.

I attended a charity event a few weeks ago at John Assaraf’s house.

I was seated next to quiet man and his girlfriend, both of whom I had met at a SANG party hosted by Vishen Lakhiani several weeks earlier.

I’m a great believer in synchronicity and that there are no accidents, so I wondered why it was that the Universe wanted me to meet this guy.

After talking with him a bit, I discovered that from what he said he had the power to advance my business substantially.

If what he said was true. IF.

Now, in the past, I would have taken the fact that I met him at John Assaraf’s house and at Vishen’s part (two business men I greatly respect) as the only proof I needed that he was good people.

I would have been unwilling to ask the hard questions that would allow me to verify that truth because I’d be afraid if I did he wouldn’t want to work with me.

But, this time, I did it differently. And I have to tell you, it felt amazing.

After having a couple of conversations about what he could do for my business and hearing how much my investment would be to work with him, I thought about what I should do instead of saying yes right away.

I was aware that I felt fear about the engagement and decided to inquire into the fear within myself instead of ignoring it.

When I did, I recognized that:

1. the fee was going to be high, but definitely worth it IF he could do what I hoped and not a higher fee than I’d ever paid for coaching/consulting before and he’d be doing way more than coaching/consulting on this project;

2. I knew that I’d be able to deliver the goods on my end, if he came through with his part.

So, what was the fear?

The fear was a valid fear that said “Hey, Alexis, you don’t really know this guy at all.  He could be exactly who he says he is and be able to do what he says he can do or he could be another person who sees you as trusting and vulnerable. Are you going to blindly trust again?”

And that was right.  I didn’t really know anything about this guy other than I had met him at the parties of two people I greatly respected.  But, I hadn’t even asked these two people if they knew him or knew anything about him.

What’s that all about?

It’s something we do as business owners when we want so badly to believe and we are looking for magic bullets and don’t want to face reality.  You’ve heard it referred to before as self-sabotage, but maybe you didn’t really know what it looked like or couldn’t see it clearly in yourself.  Sometimes an example helps.

And since this is really what my LIFT program is all about (because we all teach what we most need to learn ourselves), it was time to put my money where my mouth is and stop the self-sabotage.  The only way I was going to do that is to stop being blind to what was right in front of me.

So instead of doing what I would normally do, I asked the hard questions.

I wrote him back and said:

“I’d like to talk to a couple people who can vouch that you guys are who you say you are and have the affiliate network.  I like you personally and believe you totally know what you are talking about, but I’ve made too many mistakes in the past where I have not been willing to verify people were who they said they were and then only after I committed to work with them found out it wasn’t all as it had seemed.  I 100% don’t believe that will happen in this case, but I’m all about doing business with your eyes open and not avoiding stuff because asking is hard (this is what my LIFT system teaches).  So, to honor that, I’d really appreciate the names/numbers of a couple peeps I could call.”

I’ve gotta tell ya, it was really hard for me to send that email.

Inside, as I was writing it I felt so stupid and full of shame.  Because it was hard for me to write it.  Because I thought of all the times that I made investment decisions without asking for something so simple.  Just because I did.

And yet this time, despite the feelings of shame and stupidity, I asked the hard questions anyway.

Within a few minutes, he had responded with a simple email giving me the names of two people to call.  No drama. No hurt feelings.

As I thought about it afterward, I realized of course there was no drama.  If there had been, I would have known that working with him was a big mistake right off the bat.

One of his references is a guy named Ian David Chapman, who I’ve seen here and there for some time. He’s a social media strategist and was kind enough to give me some of his time.  And he didn’t just tell me about his experience, but he helped me make a good decision as to whether this was the right person for my needs at this time based on where I am in my business.  He helped me to see a few things I wasn’t seeing.

Had I not been willing to ask the hard questions to begin with, I would have proceeded with this investment in the dark, like I have so many times in the past.  Then, I would have not had the results I expected and gotten all victim-y and blame-y about it.

For now on, I’m going to do more asking of hard questions and I hope thanks to my example that you’ll be inspired to do the same next time.

I’d love to hear about the last time you asked the hard questions and it was helpful and/or the last time you didn’t and wished you had.  Comment/discuss/share.  I’ll respond. :)

Image courtesy of Flickr


  1. Kathryn LangTuesday, December 8, 2009 at 8:28 pm 

    Great posts – and it's good to see you stepping out like that. If only we had all asked the right questions then how far would we be right now?

  2. elenavTuesday, December 8, 2009 at 8:30 pm 

    Alexis, this was a very powerful and inspiring post. You hit the emotions right on the head – the fear of not being liked, the shame we feel of not trusting the other party, and of how we have to listen to our intuition. I too have been “ripped off” by not asking the hard questions or blindly trusting (mind you it was only a small amount). I am currently exploring joint ventures with those I deem more successful than me, and I've noticed a fear there of asking them for more credentials. What's that about? As you said, it's the fear that they may not work with me. I tend to forget that I also have a lot to offer or they would not consider even exploring the opportunities. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Fay FeeneyTuesday, December 8, 2009 at 8:50 pm 

    Way to go! I call those questions “courageous conversations”. It's controlling the impulsive powerful push to speed past so I can ask the hard questions. I find it easier to do for the protection others. Glad to be learning how to do it for myself.

  4. davenavarroTuesday, December 8, 2009 at 8:53 pm 

    The “no drama” part is critical. If someone shows you hesitation when referrals are asked for, run.

  5. Ted RightmireTuesday, December 8, 2009 at 9:06 pm 

    Good thoughts Alexis. Coming to business now, it's something I forget to do even with my own coworkers… we're not talking about distrust, just making sure we're getting the benefit of our investment (time always seems to be the big one for me). Thanks for giving me some more speculation 🙂

  6. Michael FishmanTuesday, December 8, 2009 at 9:09 pm 

    Hi, Alexis, great comments. Your insistence on vetting a new service provider in this way without blindly trusting who the universe puts in front of you is really admirable. Even though shared trust equity with other friends such as John and Vishen (a client of mine) DOES help us to confirm and validate new partners more quickly than in past business generations, you've shown that some good old responsible due diligence need not add much time to your review process but does add a LOT of certainty towards a good outcome. Bravo. Best, Michael Fishman

  7. Lionel Spearman (@lspearmanii)Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 9:10 pm 

    I tend to always ask hard questions and if I do not know you or have not had experience watching how you operate in other environments then I do want references and I will check them – that is just sound business. On every site where my profile exists you will find some form of reference because it is not about me but the client and they must be comfortable with the services I am offering. Further it is my opinion that a good consultant does not initially discuss price but rather gets a feel for what you need and if they are even the best person/firm to help and if not they recommend you to someone better suited to solve your problem or bring in someone who is. Short answer – the tough questions help me on a daily basis not only with how I run my businesses but with how I relate to customers and potential suppliers. If I need to elaborate – let me know.

  8. mikebryantWednesday, December 9, 2009 at 12:00 am 

    Very interesting read. That being said, the point I get out of this is that you have no control over the way the person would react. But, the reaction you got was really the one you needed. The one you, and many others, were afraid of getting was probably a sign of something that would be a big problem in the long run. Thanks for the provocative blog.

  9. Sanyika Calloway BoyceWednesday, December 9, 2009 at 1:11 am 

    The hard question I was challenged to ask, by you – no less, was “How do I take 100% responsibility for everything without blaming myself for anything?” Whoa…powerful. I'm not sure I have the answer to that yet, but the asking has activated my thinking BIG TIME. Suzanne Falter Barns told me last week, “Sanyika, it's all perfect because we are all here to teach what we most need to learn ourselves” – I posted that on FB & Twitter and have sat with it as my life unfolds and an working to be a woman and biz owner who leads with grace, vulnerability and transparency. Thank you for being a friend, mentor, amazing Mom and rockin' biz woman!

  10. Brian TannebaumWednesday, December 9, 2009 at 3:54 pm 

    Great post – I posted some hard questions here –… that have yet to be answered. I'm glad to see others using social media sites are asking hard questions. Keep asking.

  11. Alexis Martin NeelyWednesday, December 9, 2009 at 6:49 pm 

    That Suzanne is one smart lady, isn't she? Yes, I discovered long ago that I learn to teach and I teach what I most need to learn. Most everything that comes out of my mouth to others is what I most need to hear myself in that moment. It's why I love being a coach, teacher, mentor and guide. It's me mentoring me to be the person I want to be. At our core, we are all one.

  12. Amy MauserThursday, December 10, 2009 at 3:06 pm 

    I was disappointed to read the number of qualifications and apologies in your request for references. It may have been a hard question for you to ask – but you belied your strength by couching the question in so many reassurances. Once you determined it was a question that you needed to ask there was no need for you to couch it in your own drama. Do you think the need to apologize for strength is seen more frequently in women who are in positions of authority?

  13. Alexis Martin NeelyThursday, December 10, 2009 at 11:28 pm 

    Amy, you've identified something I'm definitely still working on. Listen, this is the very first time I've even identified that I have failed to ask for references in the past at all because I was scared. Next time, my request for references will have less apology.

    I'm growing.

    Interestingly, since I've written this post I have not heard from the guy I was considering hiring. I believe it's just because he was busy, but there's definitely a part of me that wonders if it's because I asked for references. And if so, what does that mean? If anything.

    I do think women in positions of authority do more apologizing than is necessary. Hopefully, I'll be able to help more women ask the hard questions unapologetically.

    Thanks so much for your clear expression.

  14. MattFriday, December 11, 2009 at 1:24 pm 

    Thank you for this…It can be so difficult to do business with people who claim to be experts in Social Media/Internet Marketing or even Personal/Spiritual growth…Asking for references is a good idea

  15. melaniebensonstrickThursday, December 17, 2009 at 10:53 am 

    Asking for references is something I teach ALL my clients to do when hiring ANY type of vendor, assistant, team member or other support system.

    I pay attention to how the reference responds to my questions, I call them all (not just email) and I ask things like, “What are 1 – 2 things this vendor did to impress you?” “What is something you would have liked done better?” and most importantly, “Would you hire them again knowing what you know now?”

    I also do something else…I call people they have listed as a testimonial and I search the internet to see what's out there on them.

    Great post Alexis…feel the fear and do it anyway. You are a rockstar in this area for sure!


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