non-verbal Micro-responses

Non-Verbal Matters

non-verbal Micro-responses

Today I’m thinking about the unconscious communications we all make. Someone says or does something in our presence. Then, quick as a flash, we give them a non-verbal micro-response. It might be a sound, a gesture, a facial expression. These non-verbals go by so quickly, we may not even know they happened. Like it or not, other people notice. Some of these non-verbals serve to build relationships. Some serve to destroy them. Really, if you’ll pardon the double negative, none of them have no impact at all.

AN ILLUSTRATION

The other day at a store, I said to the clerk, “Hey, I’m hoping you can help me with something.” Before responding to me, she closed her eyes, lowered her head, and let out a quick breath through her nose. The whole gesture took less than two seconds. Then she looked at me and said, “Sure. How can I help you?”

Before she spoke, I already wished I hadn’t gone into that store.

NON-VERBAL MATTERS

I expect that if you were to ask her how she responded to my request for help, she’d tell you, “I said, ‘Sure. How can I help you?’” But that wasn’t her first response. While it was the first thing she said, her gesture, her body language, was the first response. And it was also therefore my first impression. And it was the communication I believed.

There’s a principle of Adeptability we teach our clients. We humans are, “meaning making machines.” Every bit of information we take in, we make meaning of. We tell ourselves a story to make sense of the information. We fit every gesture and sound, every non-verbal expression, into the story we’re telling ourselves.

I’m a meaning making machine. So, I told myself a story to interpret her non-verbal response — right or wrong — and then I believed my story. To me it meant, “I don’t want to help you. Don’t bother me.” That response and the meaning I took from it had a more profound effect on my experience than her second/spoken response, “Sure. How can I help you.” I may have been mistaken. It’s possible I was wrong.

To the store I was in, however, it doesn’t matter whether my interpretation was correct or not. As a result of her unconscious communication to me, I felt unwelcome. So, I probably won’t go back. I got what I came for, and left as quickly as possible. She likely affected others in the same fashion.

In business, non-verbals are a major part of our brand. They’re a big part of our company culture. Micro-responses play a significant role in everyone’s sense of well-being, belonging, and motivation. Non-verbal communication drives productivity and results or it puts on the brakes.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

There’s another principle of Adeptability that informs where our attention belongs in order to have the impact in the world and our businesses that we’re looking to have.

It’s never about the thing. It’s always about the relationship.

The store clerk was willing to help me. In fact, she did help me. And even so, with her initial micro-response, she tore down the relationship with me.

Non-verbal micro-responses can tear down the relationship, and they can also build it up. How often do you smile at the people you work with when you encounter them? How often do you approach their requests with an attitude of “yes”?

Micro-responses that tear down relationships:

  • Sighs
  • “Oh no”
  • Frowning
  • Head shaking
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Eye-rolling
  • Etc.

Micro-responses that build up relationships:

  • Smiles
  • Nodding
  • “Uh-huh”
  • Eye-contact
  • Slightly raised eyebrows
  • Etc.

THE CHALLENGE

The non-verbal micro-responses we’ve been talking about are pre-conscious and reflect the thoughts you have about the situation (or person) presenting itself. You can’t necessarily control micro-responses in the moment because they come before you know it. You can, however, notice them in retrospect. Often, if you train yourself, you can recognize them even as they come. And you can instruct yourself in how you want to respond in like circumstances in the future.

And if you notice you’ve made a destructive micro-response, you can apologize for your impulsive reaction. An apology, when it’s called for and offered without prompting, is a powerful relationship builder.

You can ask those around you to give you feedback specifically about your pre-conscious micro-responses and enlist them in your effort to improve your collaborative ability.

And you can give yourself instruction and deliberately apply your awareness in advance of the situations where potentially destructive micro-responses come up.  

You know you best. Make an inventory of the places you’re most likely to sneer, roll your eyes, groan, sigh, slump your shoulders, etc.

Here’s a start:

  • When someone makes a request of you
  • When someone comes unannounced to your work space
  • When you encounter someone when walking through the office
  • When someone gives you feedback — corrective or congratulatory
  • When someone asks you for a status report
  • When someone tells you about their personal life, or asks you about yours

Keep track of these triggers. Prepare to build relationships. When you catch yourself tearing down the relationship, make a quick apology, offer a remedy, and move on.

Additionally, if you’ve got a feedback culture (and if you don’t, get to work right away to build one), give and ask for feedback on non-verbal behaviors.

  • When you roll your eyes, I’m left thinking you’re not ready for a project like this.
  • Thank you for nodding throughout my presentation. I knew I had you with me, and I felt encouraged.
  • When you shake your head while a customer is talking to you about a problem, they won’t feel supported. We’ll lose business.
  • When you occasionally say, “uh-huh,” when I’m telling the team about this new initiative, people know I have your support. It helps smooth the transition and get everyone on board.

Even subtle and unconscious behavior affects the team, the customers, and the business results. So it’s part of performance and deserving of feedback — both congratulatory and corrective.

WHY BOTHER

The greatest benefit of the awareness and discipline I’m suggesting… You can change your own attitude through this practice. Our attitudes surely affect our behaviors. It works in reverse too. Discipline yourself to constructive behaviors and your attitudes will shift.

You’ll improve your own outlook, morale, and value in your organization.

Meanwhile, you’ll also affect the impression others have of you. You’ll upgrade the way they think of you, upgrade the way they feel being around you, upgrade the opportunities that come your way, and upgrade the results you get in the many negotiations we all engage in every day.

Whatever your work, this will fuel your career and increase your sense of fulfillment. It’ll drive results for you, for your team, and for your company.

 

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Imagine your team operating with high-level EQ. Trouble is, reading an article doesn’t often change behavior. That’s why we created Adeptability Training for your team for a communication and collaboration culture as a matter of habit and mindset. Want an Adeptable team?

Book a call today.


Five Cent Company Culture Upgrade

With just 5 cents, you can make a major upgrade to your company culture. And are you ready for the kicker? You don’t even have to spend the five cents. You can keep your money and still get the upgrade. Look in the sofa cushions, grab five pennies, and read on.

COMPANY CULTURE

There’s a lot of talk about the importance of company culture. There’s not a lot of clarity about what company culture means. At The Yes Works, we have a useful definition of culture:

A company’s culture is the set of contagious tendencies of behavior, language, and values common to the people working there.

Want to know the secret to this five-cent/free company culture upgrade? Thank you. No, I am not thanking you for your interest (although, thank you for your interest). That’s the secret. “Thank you,” is the secret.

Thank you is a behavior that reflects the attitude of the thanker and affects the attitudes and the behavior of the thanked and of everyone who overhears the thanks. In an environment of recognition and gratitude, people are engaged.

A so-called leader I once spoke to said, “Why would I say, ‘Thank you,’ to my employees for doing their job. I pay them. Their paycheck is my thanks.” He wondered why he had to constantly police people to insure they spent their time on task, and why there seemed to be a problem of petty theft at the office. He didn’t believe in a connection. “That’s how people are.”

Whenever I hear, “That’s how people are,” I know that’s a team that could benefit from a shot of Adeptability.

Another employer I met recently complained that her executive assistant said she’d like more feedback. “I don’t know if I’m doing a good job.” This employer bragged, “I told her, ‘You’re still here, aren’t you? I haven’t fired you. That’s how you know that you’re doing well.’” She added, “You can’t coddle people.”

You may find these exchanges cartoonish. The sad truth is, they’re painfully common.

You’re here, reading The Yes Works blog, so your culture and your leadership are doubtless light-years ahead of that. Let’s take it to the next level. Introduce or turn up the volume on a “Thank You” Culture.

“Thank You” Culture

The research shows that if you want performance, you should be thanking people. Non stop. Thank the people who work for you. Thank your customers. Thank your vendors. Thank the people you work for, and those whom you work with. Cultivate a company culture of thanks.

Why bother?

THE THANK YOU ROI

The reasons are simple:

  1. It’s polite. Don’t get a reputation as a self-centered boor.
  2. It’s good for relationships, and as you may have heard me say before, “It’s never about the thing. It’s always about the relationship.”
  3. We crave it. One of the top complaints people have about work, “My contribution is not recognized or appreciated.”
  4. It’s contagious. When we’re thanked, we thank. Thank a lot, and the thanks are going to propagate all over your company.
  5. It reinforces the behavior you want. Behavior recognized and rewarded is behavior repeated. Thanks encourage performance.
  6. Use it or lose it. Behavior not specifically recognized and rewarded fades away. It’s not because people are peevish. It’s the way our brains are wired. Thanks reward the centers of the brain that crave belonging — and those centers are powerful indeed. “Thank you” is the best kind of peer-pressure.

A management truism is, you reliably get what you measure. That’s true of ourselves as well as those we supervise, so we’ve got a tool for you. It’ll help you drive your “thank you” performance.

Five-Cent Thank Yous

Here’s the five-cent tool you don’t have to pay a dime for. It’s an easy and contagious company culture upgrade.

  1. Put five pennies in your left pocket.

  2. Every time you thank someone for something they’ve done, move one penny from your left pocket to your right pocket.

  3. Every single day, make sure you’ve completed the transfer of funds from left to right. That’s 5 thanks a day. Better than an apple for company health.

Sound simple? It is. Still, it can be quite a challenge. We all like to think we’re gracious bosses and colleagues. Fact is, when the pressure is on, when we’re feeling busy and pressed for time, gracious may go right out the window. Saying, “thank you,” it’s only going to count — only going to deliver the benefits — if you’re received as genuine.

There’s a skill to finding and delivering a thank you that’s genuine even when you’re stressed, even when under duress. We’ve got some suggestions.

Here are a few guidelines from our Adeptability program:

  1. BE SPECIFIC. “Thank you,” even, “Thank you for your work,” is nice but gets limited ROI. Specific is far more powerful. “Thank you for double-checking my work to ensure we’re error free on this report.” That’s specific. That’s powerful. “Thank you for consistently turning your work in ahead of schedule. That keeps us on target for our clients and ensures we have a reputation for value.”
  2. TALK ABOUT BEHAVIOR. It’s not useful to thank people for generalities or for your interpretation of  their attitude — “Thank you for being friendly. Thanks for being awesome.” Thank people instead for behavior. “Thank you for smiling at me this morning.” Thanking someone for being, “helpful,” is fine. Thanking someone for, “giving me a heads-up before the meeting that Greg might need the Klein Numbers,” is better. Not only does that make the behavior easier to repeat. It’s also more gratifying to hear. I know you mean it.
  3. CULTIVATE GRATITUDE. Nothing is too small to be worthy of thanks. Thanks for holding the door. Thanks for the paper clip. Thanks for hearing me out. Thank you for coming early to the meeting so we could start on time. Thank you for always doing what you said, or communicating in advance if there’s trouble. (Gratitude, by the way, is good for you — physically and psychologically.)
  4. DEBT ACCUMULATES. CREDIT DOESN’T. Did you miss all your thank yous yesterday? Get ten in today. Did you get ten in yesterday? You still owe five today. (Need proof that this idea that credit doesn’t accumulate is a practical principle of real truth? If you get a bonus this week, is it okay with you if your employer doesn’t pay you next week?)
  5. SPREAD THE LOVE. Don’t focus all your gratitude on your close-in teammates. Spread some gratitude to others in the group, and also to those outside your department. Together with your teammates, become the “Thank you” department. Build a department reputation for gratitude. Watch how easy it becomes to get things done across silos that used to be like pulling teeth.

BONUS

Are you crushing your thank you numbers? Here are a couple of suggestions for upping your game.

ADVANCED SKILLS:

  1. FORGET 5 CENTS. Go for 10. Go for 15. When you’ve cultivated your gratitude capacity, you begin to notice oodles of opportunities. It becomes an unstoppable habit. Spread this culture contagion even wider.
  2. TALK RESULTS. You’ll notice that some of the examples above don’t end with thanks for the behavior. They go on to name the result of the behavior. “Thank you for checking my work,” names a behavior. The likely result, “We turn in an error free product.” You can also build an Accountability Culture on this behavior-results type of feedback. Actually, you can’t separate the two. “Thank you for pointing out where I was failing to deliver.” Behavior. “I’m beginning to notice a tendency I have to gloss over that area of my work, and I’m taking actions to insure I remain attentive.” Result.
  3. PLANT AND FERTILIZE. Sometimes people hold back the behavior you’re looking for. Maybe they’re not sure you really want it. Maybe they’re uncertain their efforts will be recognized and received. Only getting a shadow of what you’re after? Try thanking people for the whole thing, even if you’re getting only the barest hint. “Thank you for your quality control attention on the whole project like that.” Even if they’ve only been scratching the surface, you’ll watch the behavior grow under a nurturing thanks. Thanking someone for their effort in building a new skill will drive and motivate more effort and faster improvement.

Gratitude is an Adeptability Culture skill. It’s contagious. It’s productive. It’s not the only way to get exceptional results. It is one of the easiest and most sustainable ways to drive ever improving performance and productivity.

And it does a body good. Pass it on.

 

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Communication and collaboration are some of the hardest things to get right in any company culture, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you add more people to the team. Adeptability Training gets teams communicating and collaborating effectively as a matter of habit and mindset. Book a call today.


Collaboration Made Simple in 1 Step

Ok. Here it is. The single step you need to take for world-class collaboration:

Always move the action forward. (Repeat.)

If it’s immediately clear to you how this sentence applies to collaboration, then thanks for reading. If you’ve got an eyebrow raised, allow me to elaborate.

An Adeptability Collaboration Guide

Though we all collaborate every day, in many small ways, some of us are better collaborators than others. What’s better mean? It means making contributions that get us closer to a shared objective together. And some people are more effective  than others at working together to close the distance between us and our objectives.

Take meeting setting for instance. It’s easier to set a meeting with some people than it is with others. And it’s not just because of full calendars. Sometimes it’s about collaboration skills.

Setting a meeting with someone can take a whole lot more time and effort than it should. Just trying to set a coffee meeting between two people can seem like planning a mission to Mars for all the effort and the number of emails it may take. And scheduling coffee is about as simple as a collaboration can get.

Improvisers — people who create theatrical performances together by finding inspiration from each moment (with no advance planning or scripting) — have something to offer on this score. It’s a principle of Adeptability that can truly enhance all business communication.

According to legend, Rabbi Hillel was asked to sum up the whole of God’s teaching while standing on one leg. Pardon me while I stand up from my chair to sum up the whole of collaboration.

“ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD.”

Let me give you couple of examples of failing to employ this principle that may clarify. Warning: This may hit a little too close to home.

EXAMPLE ONE – NOT GOOD:

At a networking event, you meet someone new, or encounter an existing contact where there’s promise of mutual benefit in the relationship. You say, “We should get coffee sometime.” They respond, “Yeah! We totally should.” You both mean it. And then you go your separate ways.

Months go by, and you never go to coffee. No one took any action. Without action, there’s no forward movement.

EXAMPLE TWO – MARGINAL IMPROVEMENT:

You send an email to a colleague in another firm you’re preparing to do business with. You’d like to get together to discuss the details of the engagement. It’s coming up fast and time is of the essence. You write:

Hey Janet,

Let’s get together next week over coffee to discuss the joint venture we’re launching next month.

Janet responds:

Great idea. Let’s do it.

You:

Great. When are you available?

Janet:

Name a time.

You:

How about Tuesday at 3PM?

Janet:

Sorry. That’s the only day I can’t do. I’m out of the office all day, Tuesday.

You:

Ok. Monday then? How about Monday at noon?

Janet:

Yeah. That’s great. See you then.

You:

Terrific. See you then. But I just realized, we didn’t set a location. Where would you like to meet?

Janet:

Name a spot.

Uncle! Ok, that’s enough. I’m ready to shoot myself in the head. We’re ten emails in, and we still don’t have enough information to actually get together.

Obviously, this is an extreme case, maybe even cartoonish. But dollars to donuts, you’ve almost certainly got threads in your email or chat history that bear some resemblance.

Let’s see what happens if you take ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD as far as you can… Even if Janet doesn’t do likewise.

EXAMPLE 3 – BETTER:

You:

Hey Janet,

Let’s get together next week over coffee to discuss the joint venture we’re launching next month.

I propose Tuesday, 3PM, Mulligan’s Do-Over Coffee House on Main St.

Janet:

Sorry. Can’t do Tuesday. All booked up.

You:

Ok. Monday at noon or Wednesday at 10:30? Either way, at Mulligan’s?

Janet:

Either one.

You:

I’ll see you at Mulligan’s on Monday at noon. Please confirm.

Janet:

Yes.

 

That’s a lot better. Six emails, and it’s set and confirmed. Even without Janet’s help.

But what if both correspondents employ ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD?

EXAMPLE 4 – EFFECTIVE:

You:

Hey Janet,

Let’s get together next week over coffee to discuss the joint venture we’re launching next month.

I propose Tuesday at 3PM, Mulligan’s Do-Over Coffee House on Main St.

Janet:

Mulligan’s is great, but I can’t do Tuesday.

How about Monday at noon or Wednesday at 10:30?

You:

Mulligan’s on Monday at noon! Done. See you there.

If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume that still works for you. No need to confirm.

Three emails, and done!

This principle, this tool, ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD, applies to any collaborative project. Scheduling is just one arena.

ANOTHER ILLUSTRATION:

You:

Let’s turn this project over to Cathy. She’s a wiz at simplifying this kind of complexity.

OPTION 1: Janet could respond:

No, not Cathy. She’s good with complexity. You’re right about that. But she lacks the diplomacy to handle the client’s personality, and it’ll be a disaster.

OPTION 2: Or Janet could respond:

Cathy is good with complexity, and she’s likely to clash with the client. Barry’s almost as good with complexity, and he’ll keep his cool with a difficult client.

Which message would you rather receive from Janet? Which one moves you closer to your objective of staffing the project?

Collaboration Wrap:

This principle –ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD — implies that the following do not suffice for effective collaboration. Alone, they don’t move the action forward.

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe
  • I like it.
  • Great.
  • Terrible.

This sort of response isn’t enough information for effective collaboration. If you’re committed to moving things forward, if you want to contribute to progress, take the next step. Add to the momentum.

And don’t worry. You don’t need to build the whole thing by yourself. Because…

Collaboration Bonus:

Here’s a freebee. A bonus Adeptability principle borrowed from improvisers:

DON’T BRING A CATHEDRAL. BRING A BRICK.

It can be daunting to try to solve any single problem on your own, in one fell swoop. But one idea, even a piece of an idea is enough to MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD, or as the case may be… BUILD THE CATHEDRAL. In other words, you don’t have to solve the problem. Even the smallest idea might be the lynch-pin to the final answer. Even if your idea ends up on the cutting room floor, it might be just the trigger a fellow collaborator needs in order to discover the big idea that solves it all.

As Lao Tzu — world famous improviser — said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And in collaboration, you’re not the only one stepping.

 

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As G.I. Joe used to tell me at the end of each episode… “Knowing is half the battle.” If you’d like to build Adeptability culture in your company, click to book a call.


2 Ways to Sell Anything -- Sales Strategy

There are essentially two ways to go about selling anything. Either sales strategy can work if we define “work” as “lead to a sale.” One way will leave you and your client happier, more satisfied, and with a stronger relationship. The other will not.

To illustrate this, let me tell you the stories of my last two visits to a car lot and the sales strategies they reflect.

WAY #1: HOW TO MAYBE MAKE A SALE & CERTAINLY ALIENATE YOUR PROSPECT

Yesterday, I visited a car dealership for my first test-drives as I consider buying my next car. I’ll be buying very soon.

The sales rep (Bret) who approached me as I peered in some car windows was a young guy, inexperienced, but pleasant. Brought me some keys, accompanied me as I drove two cars, chatted me up, and learned about me and my life. He missed a few opportunities to dig into my purchase plans, but overall, a pleasant experience. So far, so good.

When he learned that I train sales teams, he said, “I want to introduce you to my sales manager.” That’s where things took a turn for the worse.

WHAT THE SALES MANAGER DID TO ALIENATE ME

Mr. Manager said, “Tell me how Bret did. Just a second,” and he tried to get me to leave Bret in the lobby while we went outside. He wanted me to critique Bret’s sales performance where only he could hear. I refused to leave Bret anxious and alone in the lobby.

Mr. Sales Manager went on to:

  • Express frustration about the state of one of the cars I drove — not from empathy for me, but because he himself was angry that it wasn’t up to his standards.
  • Chastise an employee of his in front of me and in front of other employees.
  • Tell me of a customer he’d asked to leave his lot because she was rude to his employees, berating his staff.  (“Good,” I thought.) Then he said, “I told her she’d be happier somewhere else.” (He lied to her.)
  • Tell me repeatedly, “I’d really like to sell you a car,” even after I said, “I’ve got to go pick up my daughter.

He accomplished all this in under 10 minutes.

HOW MR. MANAGER COULD HAVE DONE BETTER

He could have:

  • Said, “Bret’s a new sales rep. He’s been working hard. Would you tell Bret what he’s done well as your salesman?” Then, “How could he improve?” He could have acted in Bret’s interest to develop his skill instead of only to get some evaluation without building Bret up.
  • Thought and framed his disappointment about the car’s condition not being up to snuff from a standpoint of empathy for me. “I’m sorry we didn’t meet our own standards. I’d have liked for you to have a better experience. I’d have liked for you to see our best work.”
  • Held his criticism for his employee for a time they were alone, without customers and other staff around. There was nothing urgent going on.
  • Told that rude woman who was berating his staff, “I don’t need your money. I understand you’re angry. I don’t want anyone to talk to my staff that way. Please either apologize, or look for a car at another dealership.”
  • Heard and respected that I needed to leave to pick up my daughter.
  • Focused his thinking and speaking on helping me instead of being self-centered. “I want to sell you a car,” is none of my business. To be blunt, it’s not my job to care about his sales goals.
  • Come from a standpoint of service. “I want to be sure you get a car that’s going to really serve your needs.” Or, “I want to make the often obnoxious experience of buying a car easy, efficient, and pleasant for you. I hope that will win your business.”

Your customers are not there to serve you with a purchase. Rather, they’re expecting your service in exchange for their purchase.

To be fair, I was probably never going to purchase a car from Bret or his manager.

Because I’m loyal to Steve.

I stopped at Bret’s dealership because I’ve just started looking, and I like to see what’s out there, drive a few cars. The dealership was convenient at a time when I had an hour.

Two years ago, when I was shopping for a car, I knew just the car I wanted: a 2012 Jetta Sportwagen. I called one dealership that had one, and I was directed to Steve. (You can find Steve at this link. This is not a paid advert. Steve earned my appreciation and loyalty.)

WAY #2: HOW TO MAYBE MAKE THE SALE & CERTAINLY PLEASE PEOPLE

When I arrived at Steve’s two years ago, he greeted me like a guest, went out of his way to make me comfortable, and didn’t try to sell me anything. I’ve been telling the story and recommending Steve ever since.

HOW STEVE WON MY LOYALTY

  • Steve let me run my car buying process.
  • On the phone I said, “I’d like to drive the car on your lot, then I’m going to drive another car in the next town over. Then I’m going to weigh my options, and make a purchase.” Steve said, “Ok. Great.”
  • When I arrived to drive the car, Steve greeted me warmly, humanly, authentically without any sign of a forced smile.
  • He had the car running and the seat warmer on already. It was a cold day.
  • He spoke a little, but mostly let me listen to the car and do my thing as he rode along with me on the test drive.
  • When I said, “Thanks. I’m going to drive the other one tomorrow, and you may hear back from me,” he did not reply, “How can I put you in a car today?”
  • When I called the following afternoon and asked to drive the car again, Steve was warm again, not annoyed at my request.
  • Steve usually sells new Lexuses. But when I arrived, Steve had done a bunch of research into how to sync my phone with the car’s bluetooth. He showed me how. He went out of his way to make everything easy and pleasant for me.
  • He called me a week after I bought the car and asked how it was treating me.
  • He called a year later and said, “Happy anniversary.”

TO SUM UP — A Pushy Way, and a Helpful Way

In short, “Way 1”, focusing on yourself and the sale, pushing your will on the buyer may lead to a sale — once. And it will almost always alienate people, even if they buy.

“Way 2”, focusing on your prospect and seeking to serve them, looking at things from the perspective of their interests, will often lead to a sale — if it’s good for the buyer. And it will almost always make you friends and fans who’ll come back and refer others.

Bret’s manager was all about Bret’s manager. Steve was all about me. I’m sure Steve is acting strategically at some level to maximize the likelihood of a sale. But his strategy is about how to give me the best experience with no pressure.

Pressure will sometimes win a sale, but it will not win anyone’s heart. Stepping into a prospect’s life with the intention of helping to improve it if you can — that wins hearts. Steve won my heart, so I’ve referred business to him. And I’ve called him again to tell him what I’m looking for in my next car. He sold me a car once. He did it right. And now he’s got my business anytime I need a car.

Don’t be like Bret’s manager. Be like Steve.


Improve internal Sales Communication

"Going Great" and Other BS Sales Reps Say Sometimes

Improve internal Sales Communication

If you’ve got sales reps working for you (really, if you’ve got anyone working for you), and you’re getting all the accurate information from them that you need, when you need it, then read no further. If you need any more accurate information than you’re getting, when you need it, read on.

 

A SALES TEAM PROBLEM

Engaged and high-performing sales VPs and sales managers are telling me about a problem they’re having with their reps. “My reps aren’t communicating well with me. And sales cycles are too long.” Sound familiar?

Maybe broken communication and too-long sales cycles sound like two problems, not one. I’m combining them because solving internal communication problems can shorten sales cycles. And the same fears that prevent communication also interfere in sales relationships and prohibit rapport building.

Fear of uncertainty leads to vague, unproductive communication.

BREAKDOWN 1

You ask your rep, “Rep, how’s it going with the Smith & Co. account?” Your rep smiles and replies, “It’s going great.”

Best case scenario, you and Rep are on the same page about what “great” means. Progress is happening swiftly. Prospect is eagerly moving through the buying process. Commitment leads to commitment, and a signed contract is on the way. And Prospect has been qualified as good a fit for you as you are for them.

But what if “great” means something different to the rep than it means to you? To you, “great” means the deal is making distinct and swift progress down the pipeline. To Rep, maybe “great” means that this difficult and demanding prospect hasn’t been making demands this week. That’s easier on Rep, but could actually be a sign of a stall.

Worst case scenario, but a very common one, “great” is not actually in any way related to the deal. It’s a default response. Like, “How are you doing?” and “fine.” It’s just an effective way Rep has found to end the conversation with you, the supervisor, “so I can get back to work.” It’s a method reps use to avoid looking bad in front of supervisors. Rep doesn’t have to face your disappointment or their own if everybody accepts “great” as an acceptable response.

BREAKDOWN 2

You ask your rep when the Acme Ltd deal is going to close. Rep replies, “By month end.” But the deal doesn’t close by month end. Was Rep simply mistaken? Did something unexpected and unpredictable come up, or was the roadblock expected and predictable? Or, did Rep knowingly promise you a pipe-dream in order to delay delivering bad news they knew was coming?

Well meaning reps, even high-performing ones, often dodge, delay, defer effective internal communication. “If I report green, and then bust my butt, I’ll get this account to green before it hits the fan. Everything will be cool. I’ll make sure it becomes cool. No one will have to know that there was ever a problem.”

BREAKDOWN 3

You ask Rep about the pending Anonymous & Associates deal, and Rep says, “They asked me to check back next fiscal year.”

You say, “I thought the contract was a done deal, all but signed.”

“Yeah.” Rep says, “I thought so too. They changed their mind.” You ask what happened. Rep bows her head. She tells you about a blunder she made on a sales call last month, putting her foot in her mouth. She apologized at the time, but the whole tenor of the relationship changed. And she just couldn’t pull the deal out of the resulting nose dive. If Rep had only come to you immediately, you know you could have helped mend the damage done, and come out ahead. If only Rep had told you at the time.

A SALES TEAM SITUATION

Your job as a sales team leader is to increase revenues, to improve systems and strategies, and the get ever greater results from the resources at hand. It’s a sales-team leader’s job to get more this year out of well-meaning reps who are doing good work than we got last year.

Many people in your role, however, struggle to get the granular, specific information they need to assess, project, and support. Sales Directors say they’re learning about problems in the pipeline later than they wish. If I’d known earlier,” they mourn, “I could have helped. And my projections would have been more accurate.”

And when sales reps project a front that, “It’s all good,” it can be difficult to assess where they need coaching, and to support them in advancing their skill and to improve their results.

Does this sound like your life? Do the well-meaning (even high-performing) reps on your team keep information to themselves when it would serve the company (and themselves) better if they’d share it?

You need a collaboration boost.

 

AN ADEPTABLE SALES PERSPECTIVE

That’s why I want improvisers on my sales team. It’s not just that their presence and focus on others create great relationships with prospects that convert them to clients, keep them coming back, increase referral business, and generate gratitude (as described in an earlier blog post). They’re a part of an open system of information that allows the whole organization to thrive, improve, and succeed.

Teams trained to improvise (in programs like Adeptability Training) have more fluid and open information flow — and thus they’re more adaptive, more responsive, and more effective collaborators. Improvisers share information — even information that shows their vulnerabilities — freely and frequently. Sharing information is how they get ahead.

Even before Adeptability Training, you can start to practice its principles today. At your next sales-team meeting, coach your team to put this one into practice. We call this principle “Be Obvious.”


A SOLUTION

Ask your team to “Be Obvious” with you. Tell them, “Nothing goes without saying.”

People who practice “Be Obvious” say more about more. You can ask for more information — and get it — by saying, “Nothing’s too obvious to tell me.” And you, as a supervisor, can be obvious right back. When Rep tells you, “Everything’s great with Smith & Company,” you can say, “I don’t know what ‘great’ means in this circumstance. Tell me more.”

This only works if you tell them as well, “When you come to me early with a problem, I will have your back.” Provide them with the coaching, the support, and the resources they need to excel. Sales reps thrive with support, and faith, and freedom. Most of us in sales are relational types. We may have lone-wolf tendencies, but we get a lot from the relationships that nurture us.

Make a game of it. You might say, “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then say what you think no-one should miss. “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then ask the question whose answer may be obvious. “I know this might be obvious, but have you asked Prospect this question.”

Ridiculing people for being “Captain Obvious” is a common thing in the culture at large, and in many company cultures as well.

“Be Obvious” culture, however, is far more effective. And with a little practice, feedback, and having fun with it, “Be Obvious” can easily be installed within a few weeks.

You’ll never go back.

When your reps are “obvious” with you, you’ll suddenly have three times the opportunities to provide coaching inside the sales process. With more information flow, you can close more business and fine-tune your sales process to truly respond to the particulars of your business, your product, and your clients.

As you repeatedly ask for more information, your reps will learn that vagueness won’t fly. They’ll stop saying, “Going great,” and they’ll actually start giving you details before you have to ask for them.

BONUS ADEPTABLE TOOL

Be Specific.

Ask your team to give you more specifics, greater detail — as a rule. This principle walks hand-in-hand with “Be Obvious.”

The tough part for you… Have the patience to keep asking. Dig into the details, and don’t take “fine” for an answer. Be kind. Be patient. Keep at it. The folks on your team will become fonts of specific information you can use to shepherd deals, notice skill gaps, give an assist, and coach effectively.

Your team will thrive. You will exceed objectives.

 

TRAINING VS. INSTRUCTION

I make a distinction between training and instruction. Instruction provides information. It takes considerable work to implement. You’ve got to bring considerable, deliberate attention to bear.

Training is experiential and creates habit. Once trained, people behave as trained by default.

 

If this sounds useful, book a call. We’ll help make it easier to keep the information flowing on your team.


Make a friend. Almost kill him. Start a business together.

I made a new friend. One day, we almost killed each other. Then, we spent that afternoon together in misery. Next, we formed a company to teach others to do what we had done — at work. You can do it too at your work.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meeting:

Adam and I worked together once, years ago, on a project for two months. It was great. Won some critical acclaim. Was beloved by a small number of fans. And ultimately, it failed commercially. Some time later, we entered a competition together (along with some others) with a weekends’ project, had some fun, and won an award. I liked working with Adam. I thought there was potential for a friendship there, so I asked him on an adventure.

“Let’s go on a half-day canoe trip together, Adam. Something local. I’ll meet you at the river.”

On the trip, we almost killed each other. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“The mindset that improv training breeds is kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine for a moment that every boss you’ve ever had, every coworker, everyone who has ever reported to you was kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine what you could have accomplished together.”

Adventure:

We met relatively early in the morning at a gas station. He followed me in his car to the downriver site where we’d end our morning’s paddle. And then, we drove my car to the upriver site where we put the canoe in the water. After a couple of hours of pleasant, enjoyable calm flat water, punctuated by the occasional mild, short, fun rapids, we came to a bigger rapid, and pulled the boat to the bank to reconnoiter.

I hopped out, scrambled a ways down the bank, climbed up on some rocks and debris, and scoped out the rapid. It was fast, turbulent water, but the chute through the rapid was uncomplicated and clear of any major obstacles. I nodded, returned to Adam, and said, “Let’s do this.”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

“I think we can do it,” I said. “Bigger, but not harder, than what we’ve already done.”

Then I reminded him of a few key techniques for navigating the rapid successfully and what to do if we capsized (I was the experienced paddler in the boat), and we pushed off the bank.

The first half of the rapid was a thrilling, easy, straight shot. We came to the first of two slight adjustments we’d have to make before reaching calm water again, and Adam leaned right when he should have leaned left. We took on water. The boat rode lower, and within one second we were capsized. For a few seconds, I shouted instructions to Adam. “Hang onto your paddle! Feet downstream! See you at the bottom! Left bank!” Neither one of us knows if he heard any of that.

Disaster:

The next thing I knew, my ankle got caught between two boulders. I swung around head downstream, foot pinned, face up in the heavy water. And the torrent played me like a ragdoll. I could not free my ankle. I struggled to keep my face above the water. By trying to sit up, I could just manage to bring my face to the surface long enough to gasp a breath. I did this a few times. I hadn’t been pinned more than a few seconds, I think, but I was already becoming exhausted.

If I couldn’t free my foot, I would drown very soon. But struggling as I was to earn just three breaths, I was losing strength, and hadn’t made any progress toward freedom. I thought, “I’m going to die.” I thought of my unborn daughter growing up without a dad. So I took a breath, and gave in to the torrent. I went limp. My body did a horizontal impression of a car-dealership tube-man in the current.

I was resting.

After only a couple of seconds of that, I summoned my strength and did the hardest situp of my life. I managed the biggest breath so far, and — finally — to wrench my ankle from between the boulders that held it.

Seconds later, the rapids spit me out into the calm but swift water below. I thought, for the first time since being pinned, of Adam. I hoped he’d fared better than I had. I hoped too that he’d heard me say left bank. I swam for that bank myself, exhausted.

By coincidence or by design, Adam had also found the left bank. We found each other, and took stock.

Our paddles were gone. Our boat was gone. Adam had seen it destroy itself against a rock, turning inside out and wrapping around the boulder under the immense pressure of the water. Our food was gone. Hats gone. Almost everything was gone. Drinking water, gone. Adam’s shoes, gone.

I still had my wallet. Still had my keys. Both of us, somehow, had managed to keep our smartphones, and to keep them dry.

The phones turned on, but there was no reception. So we climbed a small but steep hill beside the river.We were somewhere inside Fort Lewis Army Base, and there were no buildings, or paths or other man-made anythings to be seen, even from the hill. The bank was impassable. The river too swift and cold to float the afternoon in. And we could not place a call. Google maps did, however, give us some slight indication of our location and of directions. We identified a possible road on the map and planned to walk there. It was not very near.

Adam’s shoes were gone, and his bare feet already hurt after the small amount of walking we’d done. I gave him my sandals and went barefoot.

Ordeal:

We tried to walk in the direction of the road or path that the map had indicated. It wasn’t easy to do. The forest around us was all but impenetrable. Every foot of progress was hard won through undergrowth and brambles. We zigzagged our way in the general direction we wanted to go by walking along fallen logs whenever we could. They provided paths through the bramble.

The afternoon became hot, and we wished we had water. We became quite fatigued. The landscape of small hills and valleys was difficult. The bramble nearly impossible.

Eventually, we reached my wife by phone and tried to describe the spot we were trying to reach — and told her it was within Fort Lewis. Could she call someone to meet us there — or try to meet us there herself?

We lost reception.

When we regained reception, we learned she’d gotten permission to drive into this remote section of the base to try to find us.

We pushed on. I lost my wallet, and spent some time and energy looking for it, retracing my steps a small distance. I could not tell where I had been, could not see my own path, so I gave up on my wallet, and we pressed on again.

Finally, we came in to a valley we believed our road ran along. But there was no road. So we pressed on, until…

Salvation:

I don’t know whether I saw or heard her first. Bless her, my wife had found our road, driven along it as far as she could, and then, when the road became impassible to the car, she’d left the car to find us on foot. She’d brought water.

Rejuvenated, somewhat, by the arrival of our rescuer, and by the rehydration, we quickened our pace and reached the car.

With the worst of the ordeal behind me, I decided and told Adam, “Now that we’re safe, and only in retrospect, that was kind of fun.”

“Not my idea of fun,” said Adam (a guy who’s run the Tough Mudder because that is his idea of fun).

Retrospect:

That’s when something began to dawn on me. “Not my idea of fun,” was the most negative thing Adam had said all day.

We’d stood on the bank of that river, nearly drowned, already exhausted by the ordeal in the rapids, with no way back to civilization, without water, and facing hours of greater ordeal in the heat of the afternoon. Adam had leaned left when he should have leaned right. I’d taken us into a rapid that I should not have attempted with Adam’s level of experience and confidence. We stood there on the bank facing trouble, but not emergency.

There were lots of conversations we could have had on that bank. Either of us could have blamed the other, shouted, pointed, and cursed. Either of us could have sat on the bank to cry. Either of us could have begun to marshal resources to support his own comfort and ease — to hell with the other guy.

Instead, we took quick stock of the situation, and began to think of the two person unit. Adam was fitter physically. I was more experienced outdoors. I had sandals. Adam’s bare feet were already hurt.

We strategized briefly. And we took immediate action to get the pair of us out of the predicament.

And the day went that way, each of us caring for the other, filling in when we could for the other’s weaknesses.

There was not a moment’s time given to sniping or to blame. We spoke occasionally of the fatigue and the dehydration, but neither of us complained. Instead, we kept the team apprised unemotionally of our slowly deteriorating state of strength and endurance. We took a moment to admire the beauty of a striking caterpillar posing on a tree trunk.

We disagreed about strategy often. At those times, we debated briefly, and one of us would defer to the other, and get completely behind the plan from that point on. We made errors that set us back. We adjusted, and still never pointed fingers.

Revelation:

We had each other’s backs, and we were united behind a single purpose.

I’d been considering a company dedicated to making work good for people. I’d seen how much ineffectiveness there is in many people’s work habits, and how many people feel beat down by work instead of fulfilled. Most people in our society don’t like work. I wanted to make a difference in that because I wanted my daughter to grow up in a culture where work is viewed as a grace and a privilege. I knew that tools and techniques from theater improv could serve to help people focus on what matters, to respond to others with empathy and purpose, and to take inspiration from the most seemingly trivial things — and therefore to like work.

Because Adam is the best improviser I know, I’d thought about asking him to join me in founding this company.

But it was because of who we were together in adversity, because of our focus on purpose, our willingness to keep going when it seemed we could not, because of the resourcefulness and commitment to purpose and team above all else… Because of those extraordinary qualities proven in a true trial of our temperaments, I knew two things.

Company Born:

First, I knew Adam was someone I could work with in the trenches. Come hell or high water, we’d be able to weather the rough seas of a startup.

Second, I knew that it was the improviser’s mentality that allowed us to maintain such equanimity, kindness, and resolve during and after such a trial. I knew we had something we could offer to the workplaces and to working-teams all over our country. And I knew we were already both experienced at teaching it.

Pair that with a life-long passion for developing leadership in myself and others… We were poised to change lives. We asked Rachel (who shares our mindset and devotion to developing it still further) to join us. She rounded out our team, and we started changing the world of work one team at a time.

Our Impact:

The mindset that improv training breeds is kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine for a moment that every boss you’ve ever had, every coworker, everyone who has ever reported to you was kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine what you could have accomplished together. Imagine the joy that would have filled your days. Imagine how you would feel on Monday morning, knowing you were heading to work to be surrounded by minds like that.

That’s why I have found my life’s work in changing lives, by changing work, by changing habits, by teaching improv dynamically correlated to the work you do.

 


The Internet Don't Know Leadership

There’s a video on the internet that I repeatedly encounter. It’s accompanied by commentary that indicates a severe misunderstanding of what good leadership looks like. Well, trolls don’t know leadership. Do you?

High School Don’t Know Leadership

Every time I see the video and its attendant misunderstanding of leadership, I am reminded of Mrs. Kershman who taught me writing in my sophomore and senior years in high school. When I first walked into her classroom, she took one look at my binder with papers sticking out all over the place and the stack of books sliding out of my grasp. She said, “You’re discombobulated. Leave my room, and don’t come back until you’ve gotten yourself together.” At the time, that didn’t seem fair. So what if my papers were scattered? So what if I was trying to carry too many books in my arms? And what the hell did “discombobulated” mean?

Mrs. Kershman didn’t abide any non-sense. Not from me, and not from any of my classmates. She called me out on a lot of non-sense over the course of two years. She called me out when I was disorganized, called me out when I was distracted or distracting in class. And, she called me out when I hadn’t put my best effort into my work.

Leadership Doesn’t Always Make Friends

I don’t remember any peers who held a neutral view of Mrs. Kershman. I came to love her pretty quickly. Some of my peers shared my affection and gratitude. Some, however, never liked her. In fact, they had very unflattering things to say about her. But she recognized potential in me most of my other teachers had overlooked. I can’t overestimate how much that has meant.

She expected a lot. When I scored a four on the AP English Comp exam (a score I was proud of), she said, “Congratulations. You could have gotten a five.” She was right. I hadn’t really studied.

Why did some of us love her? We loved her because she was honest, and she was generous with her knowledge, her insight, and her high expectations for our performance. She was fair. She doled out kudos when she saw commendable work, and criticism when she saw flawed work. Mrs. Kershman made me into a good writer. We loved her because she loved us. She loved us enough to be matter of fact and unemotional about our work — good or bad.

Mr. Moser, my directing professor in college, same story. Same with Mr. Peirson who taught studio art. Many of my peers disparaged them as well. I liked them at once and remain grateful for their high expectations and unemotional feedback. When their praise did come, it meant a great deal.

Some Colleagues Don’t Know Leadership

Later, as a part of the workforce, I had a supervisor whom many of my coworkers regularly disparaged as well. They had unflattering things to say about her. At first, I didn’t see what they disliked in her. She evaluated me fairly. She criticized my weaknesses and praised my good work. I challenged my peers’ mistrust of her. It seemed many of them believed she was trying to aggrandize herself by critiquing their work. One peer said, “no one’s had those complaints about my work before. It’s B.S.” It became clear that what my colleagues disliked in our supervisor was that she demanded excellence, and didn’t pet us.

I received her criticism as she delivered it, without emotion. She came to trust me (as I did her) and often sought my counsel. As our relationship continued, she told me more than once that she viewed me as a mentor in leadership and management. She had less experience leading and managing people than I did. Even as she called me a mentor, she continued to critique my work.

This was not the behavior of a self-aggrandizing power monger — to refer to a direct report as a mentor. This was the behavior of someone who loves good work, someone who knows that wisdom can flow in both directions without the loss of authority, someone who values growth over role power. My peers it seems had never learned what strong leadership looks like. Indeed, there were not many strong leaders in that particular organization. She was a diamond in the rough. My peers suffered from career histories without really having any oversight. They’d never cultivated a hunger for honest criticism as I had.

I feel truly fortunate to have had many strong leaders in my life. I am fortunate to have been raised and taught to recognize them. That’s allowed me to continue learning from great leaders, and to grow through their input.

Internet Troll Don’t Know Leadership

And so, I’m back to that video I named at the top. It’s a clip from Britain’s Got Talent. At the very start of a young boy’s audition, Simon Cowell interrupts the song. He says to the boy (Shaheen Jafagholi), “You’ve got this really wrong,” and asks him if he’s got any other songs that he can sing. Much of the internet lambasts Simon for this. It says he has “embarrassed” or “humiliated” Shaheen. Because of this and other no-holds-barred critiques that Simon has leveled at people on tv, the internet calls him cruel, and harsh, and mean.

In the case of Shaheen and his interrupted audition, I find Simon both generous and compassionate. The audition was not going well. Simon had the compassion and generosity to stop it before he embarrassed himself, or worse, failed in his audition attempt. Simon didn’t just stop the audition. He helped Shaheen to change its direction by singing a song that better highlighted his talents. Without Simon’s intervention, Shaheen would have fallen short and failed to progress in the competition.

With the second song, Shaheen crushed it. Simon saved his audition. He got a standing ovation. He didn’t look humiliated to me. (The internet also says that Shaheen humiliated Simon. Balogna. The two of them collaborated to deliver a stellar performance that wouldn’t have happened without their combined talents. Simon saw the talent beneath the bad audition, and he wanted to see it in full bloom.)

Simon, contrary to popular opinion, is a remarkable leader who can teach the internet a thing or two.

Three Leadership Lessons from Simon

One lesson is in the Shaheen video above:

1. Look for greatness. Insist on greatness. Waste no time in playing around with mediocrity when greatness is within reach. Mrs. Kershman would approve.

Simon’s second lesson in leadership is also grossly misunderstood by the internet. He demonstrates this lesson when he interrupts another audition, saying, “I can’t listen to that,” and suggesting she choose another song, “a better song. What else have you got?”

Simon’s fellow judges do not approve of his having interrupted Jodi Bird. They tell him so. And then Jodi begins her song again. Same song she started with. She sings her heart out. The crowd goes wild, and her father shouts, “Take that, Simon!” Simon’s response, “Yeah. I may have acted a little bit prematurely there.” He adds briefly, “I’m not crazy about [show tunes],” and immediately proceeds to say, “I did cut you off too short. And I apologize.”

Second Leader’s Lesson:

2. Leaders make errors. They’re open to recognizing the fact. They acknowledge it easily and quickly. And if there’s any chance they’ve stepped on someone’s toes, they readily apologize.

Turns out, Simon interrupts people often. In this third video, he interrupts Hope Murphy as soon as he recognizes the song.

Simon’s brain was impaired when it came to this song. He’d heard it too often, from too many auditioners and he was sick of it. The internet doesn’t like that Simon’s rejected yet another person’s song choice. “He’s trying to throw her off,” says one commenter. In truth, he’s self-aware enough to recognize that he’s now got a bias against that song. He doesn’t know whether Hope has talent, but he does know that if she sings the song she’s chosen, he won’t give her a fair shake. Watching and evaluating auditions is exhausting. He’s already seen many, many people. And, he wants to be sure to give Hope her fair shake.

Third Leader’s Lesson:

3. Know thyself. Compensate for your weaknesses and blind-spots — whether permanent or temporary — by creating systems and fail-safes to catch you.

The internet is full of bad lessons in leadership. Some people think good leadership is either soft and fluffy or leaves you to your own devices. Nope.

Leadership isn’t soft. It’s loving. It reflects the truth back to you, instead of shielding you from reality and preventing your growth. Leadership expects more from you than you think you have to give. It looks beneath the surface to see potential and encourages that potential to be realized. Sometimes it’s tough. It doesn’t agree with your self-limiting ideas. If you’re available and open to it, you expand your capability and shine in its presence.

Recognize Leadership: Leadership Sees You

Take a moment to reflect. How are you doing with respect to these measures of leadership? Are you kindly demanding excellence? Or are you weakly permitting mediocrity? How are you responding to strong leadership? Are you gratefully asking more of yourself in response? Or are you disparaging of others who want to see you grow to meet your potential?

Thank a great leader in your life today. Share your experiences of great leaders with me. I love to hear those stories.