The Dan Sullivan Question

Published: January 22, 2019

It is proven that there are way that questions can be asked to provoke specific answers. When questions are framed correctly, many different outcomes are possible. A properly framed question can allow the person answering to revisit a specific experience, or maybe come to a clear decision. If done methodically, the person asking the question(s) can maintain power within any conversation and influence incredible answers.

Our team has stumbled upon a very specific criteria for asking questions. However, what we have found is that there is actually one single question that can truly be the answer for success. This one question was created by Dan Sullivan, a strategic planner and coach. In his book, The Dan Sullivan Question, he shares this question and the power it holds, and breaks down the strategy behind each word. Below we have summarized the question, the methodology, and how we have applied it to various businesses.

“If we were having this discussion three years from today, and you were looking back over those three years, what has to have happened in your life, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy with your progress?”

Dan explains that for the question to be effective, it must be asked exactly as it is written or the outcome can be totally misconstrued. Modifications can be made when delivering the question, based on specific situations, however it is important that it always includes the four key parts. We have broken these down below:

“If we were having this discussion…” – The very first part of the question implies that you and the other person will be having a future conversation. This furthermore indicates that you two are okay with having some sort of working relationship together down the road. This opening phrase builds a bridge of trust between you and the other person, allowing you to create possibilities together in the future.

“… three years from today…”  – By including a specific time period, the other person is prompted to imagine a specific point in the future. The question has now become visual and activates his or her imagination. Three years seems like a long ways away, however with a now active imagination, current circumstances or issues will have been lifted by then. This gives he or she a sense of freedom.

“… looking back over the three years…” – This allows the person to look at the future from a different perspective and they are able to further visualize that specific point in the future. It allows them to pinpoint what is important to them and what is not as important.
“… for you to feel happy…” – Everyone wants to be happy, let’s be perfectly clear here. All the changes that are made in life are made with the intention that we will achieve overall happiness. By closing out the question with this phrase, you are able to allow the other person to visit that place of happiness that they have imagined for themselves and their life.

The second part of the question covers dangers, opportunities, and strengths, and quite frankly allows access to deeper emotions. Dan explains this part of the conversation as having “the possibility of a great ongoing discussion that can continually transform how people organize their lives for the better.” We have listed this second half of the question below:

“Specifically, what dangers do you have now that need to be eliminated, what opportunities need to be captured, and what strengths need to be maximized?”

When people are asked about possible dangers that need to be eliminated, they relate this to any fears they may have — usually a fear of losing things that are important to them. By asking them about opportunities they would like the capture, they experience a level of excitement; excitement of gaining new things that are important to them. In the final part of the question, they will feel a sense of confidence come over them when asked about their strengths.


So how do you go about using Dan’s “question” in your business and/or real estate team?  I have been applying this question for over 5 years now, and there are 2 areas where I’ve found it to be most applicable and powerful.  

The first area is obvious…hiring and recruiting.  There are some many hiring guides and outlines that provide you dozens of questions for you to ask a candidate in the hiring process.  Try starting with just this one question next time you are in a hiring meeting and see where it takes you!

The next area to apply this question is in your efforts to spark employee and sales agent engagement and motivation.  Oftentimes our employees and agents drift, lose motivation, and eventually look to leave our team. This can be prevented but only if you, as the team leader, truly understands what drives your people!  What makes them get up every morning? What do they aspire to accomplish? Do you know this answer for all of your team members? Probably not. Apply Dan’s question today. Meet with your most important people, ask this question, and simply listen.  Record the responses. And take action based on these responses. In helping your people achieve the success and happiness they desire you will create partners for life.

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