Business Relationships: Make or Break With Micro-Responses

Today I’m thinking about micro-responses and how they can make or break your business relationships (and therefore your career).

A Business Relationships Story:

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. Then she looked at me and said, “Sure. How can I help you?” I instantly wished I hadn’t gone into that store. Our business relationship was in bad shape.

Above, I wrote that she closed her eyes, lowered, her head and exhaled “before” she responded to me. That wasn’t really true. That body language was her first response. And it was a foundational moment for our relationship.

We humans are, “meaning making machines,” so of course I interpreted that micro-response in my mind. 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 spoken response, “Sure. How can I help you.” I believed her non-verbals more than I believed her words.

 

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

 

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

A Take Away:

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
  • Etc.

Micro-responses that build up relationships:

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

These micro-responses 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 as they come or afterward, and instruct yourself in how you want to respond for the future.

And if you’ve made a destructive micro-response, you can apologize for the impulsive reaction. An apology, when it’s called for, 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.

Something to Practice:

You can give yourself instruction and deliberately apply your awareness  in advance of the situations where micro-responses come up.  Some of those may include:

  • 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. Prepare to build your business relationships. When you catch yourself tearing down the relationship, make a quick apology and move on.

The greatest benefit of this awareness and discipline… You can change your own attitude through this practice, and improve your own outlook, morale, and value in your organization.

Today I’m thinking about micro-responses and how they can make or break your business relationships (and therefore your career).

A Business Relationships Story:

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. Then she looked at me and said, “Sure. How can I help you?” I instantly wished I hadn’t gone into that store. Our business relationship was in bad shape.

Above, I wrote that she closed her eyes, lowered, her head and exhaled “before” she responded to me. That wasn’t really true. That body language was her first response. And it was a foundational moment for our relationship.

We humans are, “meaning making machines,” so of course I interpreted that micro-response in my mind. 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 spoken response, “Sure. How can I help you.” I believed her non-verbals more than I believed her words.

 

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

 

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

A Take Away:

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
  • Etc.

Micro-responses that build up relationships:

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

These micro-responses 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 as they come or afterward, and instruct yourself in how you want to respond for the future.

And if you’ve made a destructive micro-response, you can apologize for the impulsive reaction. An apology, when it’s called for, 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.

Something to Practice:

You can give yourself instruction and deliberately apply your awareness  in advance of the situations where micro-responses come up.  Some of those may include:

  • 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. Prepare to build your business relationships. When you catch yourself tearing down the relationship, make a quick apology and move on.

The greatest benefit of this awareness and discipline… You can change your own attitude through this practice, and improve your own outlook, morale, and value in your organization.


Set Expectations Like an Improviser

Are you in sales? Do you have a boss or have people working for you? Got people working with you? Do you work with people? 

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there are people who expect things from you.

The question is, are their expectations consistent with the reality you are prepared to deliver? Will you meet their expectations, or will you disappoint?

Half the answer lies in what you deliver. The other half lies in what they expect.

THE INCOMPLETE SET

Last month, I placed an order with a marketing company. They told me, “Your marketing product will go live in no more than 30 days. Maybe sooner.”

That’s expectation setting. They gave me an expectation about timeline.

They also told me that I’d have a “success manager” assigned to me and my marketing efforts, and that I’d hear from that manager to get my input along the way.

They gave me specific time when I should expect completion, but no specifics about when I’d hear from the “success manager.” Because they left a gap in setting expectations for me, I filled the gap with my own expectations about what the interim timeline would look like. Because I set my own expectations about their service, they set us both up for confusion, disappointment, and anxiety.

Indeed, two weeks later, when I hadn’t heard from anyone, I touched base with the sales rep who brought me on board to ask how things were progressing. “The holidays have created a backlog. I’m sure you’re still on target. You’ll hear from someone soon.”

Cool. Reassuring. A little bit.

When I called again a week after that, I heard, “There’s a bit of a backlog because of the holidays, but I’m sure your release will happen on time.”

Less reassuring. Kind of vague.

When I heard from his colleague that same day, “I received your search landing page today, and you’ll see it for review in about an hour,” that truly reassured me.

Why?

THE COMFORT OF SPECIFICITY

Was it the tangible progress that reassured me? Because someone had seen actual work done on my project…?

Well, that was part of it.

A bigger part of it, however, is that the info they gave me was specific. It was not a general assurance like, “I’m sure you’re still on target.” Or, “You’ll hear from someone soon.”

I heard instead, “I’m currently looking at this specific aspect of our deliverables to you.” She said, “You’ll see it in one hour.”

It was nice that I’d see it so quickly. But, “tomorrow morning by 10AM,” would have been almost as good. It’s the level of specificity that gave me something to hold on to. My worries are gone. And I know when I should start worrying. I can directly compare the reality on the ground with the expectation they set for me.

IMPROV’S LESSON FOR SETTING EXPECTATIONS

What I’d like to impart to you is a bit of wisdom I learned by training as an improviser…

The more specific you are with others in your life — those who work with you, live with you, depend on you, employ you, work for you, buy from you, sell to you… whatever — the more specific you are with others, the more comfortable they will be.

And guess what, the less likely they are to irritate you as well. I think I got under my vendor’s skin a bit, by writing a few times to ask about the status of my order.

What would have saved me the worry that my order would be late? What would have saved my vendor the irritation of my, “Are we there yet?”

One thing would have saved us both the stress — practicing the improviser’s tool, “Be Specific.” Had they been specific, not only about the deadline for the finished product, but about the timeline of every deliverable along the way, I’d have rested comfortably and left them to do their work.

BE SPECIFIC

So, dear reader, the next time you find yourself in a situation where someone else is looking to you for answers about what to expect:

  • When will you…?
  • What will X look like?
  • How will costs be calculated?
  • What do you like about…?
  • What are the metrics for success?
  • Where can I find X?
  • How can I attain X results?

Be as specific as you possibly can.

Expectations are like bowling. When you’ve got a seven-ten split, you can’t expect to knock down both pins by simply rolling the ball down the alley “that way.” You’ve got to hit the seven pin just so, in order to send it spinning into the ten. That’s a specific task.

So is communication. You’ll be rewarded for your specificity.


6 Ways to Speed Up During Year-End Slowdown

It’s natural to slow down this time of year. The days are shorter, and we’re biologically programmed to slow down. There’s a break from Christmas through new years when many businesses all but shut down. We’re all thinking about family and friends — as we should. And we’re surrounded by so many messages about ending, that it’s hard to think about what’s continuing and what’s starting anew.

The holiday season is a full time. Good cheer, family, vacation, celebrations, feasting. Many of us look back at the year that’s ending and evaluate where we are compared to our dreams for ourselves and our companies. Many look forward to the coming year and start to resolve to change.

Unless you’re in retail, business tends to slow down, too. Productivity slows. Sales slump, especially B2B sales. The pace of everything seems to wind down along with the year as if preparing for a hibernation. And after New Year’s, many businesses take a while to gear back up to their usual operating pace.

After the holidays, people stumble back in from their family trips and too many cookies. They look around the office as though it’s a familiar location from long ago. They blink in the fluorescent light, and they’re just not sure how to get started again.

Sound familiar?

Diminished productivity and lost momentum add up to lost revenue potential. Can’t cancel the holidays. Wouldn’t want to. So I hope my improviser’s mindset can help you and your team enjoy the holidays fully, and keep and even accelerate the speed of business.

Here are 6 things you can do over the next few weeks to keep the pace up now, hit the ground running in the new year, and improve the vitality of your team all at once. Improvisers look for opportunities to keep the action moving.

1. Express gratitude

In keeping with the season’s traditions, thank people for their work. To have the greatest impact, Be Specific.

  • Name specific behaviors. Like this, “Carla, when you go out of your way to help a client…”
  • Name specific events as examples. “Frank, you took the initiative to call Jerry over at ACME Widgets because you’d heard through the grapevine that they were having trouble with…”
  • Name specific results. “Beth,we keep happy clients and get more referral business because you…”
  • Name a specific desired future. “Thank you, Alan. Please keep doing that.”

If you do nothing else on this list, express gratitude this way. Gratitude is a prime motivator, and boosts engagement and productivity all by itself.

2. Shore up relationships

If sales and service activities are slowing down because of year-end, you and your team can reach out to clients, vendors, peers, competitors, colleagues. Reach out to anyone who’s important in your business, and express care (including gratitude). Have lunch or coffee. Attend holiday parties, and go deeper than typical small-talk.. Connect with people on things that matter to them — family, career, dreams, hobbies. Strengthen relationships, and reap the rewards in the new year.

3. Survey what you’ve built

Your team has accomplished a lot this year. Often, though, we just keep plowing forward, looking to the next project and the next task. Take a moment. Take a whole meeting. Look at what you’ve done together, and give each other a pat on the back. Even if you’ve taken a beating this year, you’re still standing. Take pride. If you can’t take pride, give pride to one another. A sense of accomplishment can bolster resolve and accelerate growth.

4. Plan for next year

If you haven’t begun this already, you’re behind. Plan for next year. What are your goals and targets? What are your metrics for success? How will you reach them? Be specific about actions you and your team will need to take. Begin to make assignments and map out responsibilities. Include your team in the planning process. Rather than allowing big goals to intimidate you and your team, frame the plan as an inspiration. And let people begin to take action.

5. Plan for the first week of January

Before everyone leaves for Christmas, gather your team to plan for your return. Set deadlines for the first Thursday that people are back. Include activities that require collaboration and accountability. Give people some work they find fun to jump into when everyone’s back. That way, when January 2nd rolls around, people will come in bright-eyed, eager to work. Gather very briefly on the morning of the 2nd to give people a high-spirited reminder of the plan. Then connect that plan with intrinsic motivators like pride in their work and the gratitude of their colleagues and clients.

6. Express Gratitude

Did I mention that already? This is something trained improvisers do easily and readily. They notice resources, structures, and people that support them. They acknowledge people who have their back.

Improvisers know that constant feedback drives behavior. Feedback is the material that all relationships are built from.


Powerful Networking Approach for Sales - And for Everything Else

I’ve learned some things about networking in recent years that I wish I’d known a long time ago.

LOST OPPORTUNITY

If I’d known 20 years ago, I’d be rich now, and my work-life (which I’ve liked) would have been more fulfilling. Networking is different from prospecting. (And, by the way, even my prospecting looks more now like networking than simply looking for business.)

When I go to a networking event, I hope I’ll meet people with whom I’ll be able to do business. Doing business is how I eat. Most people “do networking” from within that hope. And they hate networking. And therefore, networking doesn’t work for most people like it works for those few high performers who seem to close business out of nowhere without breaking a sweat.

I used to suck at networking. I didn’t understand that in order to be effective, networking must be separate from the hope that it’ll lead to business.

We’re told, “add value,” and, “just meet people.” We’re told, “Ask people about themselves.” We’re admonished, “Don’t be pushy.” And, “Be authentic, genuine.” Almost nobody tells us how, or even what those things mean. They don’t tell us that when we try to be authentic, the trying prohibits authenticity.

We don’t know that when we speak with people while holding a specific hope, we come off desperate and turn people off. In fact, many of your sales managers push you to close sales in a way that breeds feelings of desperation and prevents you from building rapport and closing business. No one tells us what to do with the profound desire to get business and make money.

THE HIGH PERFORMER’S DIFFERENCE

The highest performers are driven by the desire to make money, and they don’t allow that desire to co-opt their conversations. Their conversations are about people, and about being of help. Their conversations are not about how they’ll make quota.

The key is to step aside from hope when talking with others — whether in a sales conversation or simply networking. You can hope, of course. Don’t let me take that away from you. Heck, you can’t help it. To hope is human. Just let hope be a passenger, not a driver. You may have heard the adage, “Hope is not a strategy.” Hope isn’t a healthy relationship driver either.

Drive your networking and your connecting instead with faith. Hope is specific. I hope you like me. I hope you’re a good prospect for me. I hope we can do business. I really hope I leave this event with at least one strong lead. It’s pretty easy to have your hopes dashed. So it’s pretty easy to come across as desperate or manipulative — salesy — as you pursue your hopes.

Faith is more general. It’s not so easily dashed. I have faith that if I do the right things, I’ll be successful. I have faith that if I help whomever is in front of me, some people I help will want what I sell, and want it from me. I have faith that I’ll close deals, even if I don’t close the particular deal in front of me now. I have faith that the deals I do close will be with the right people for the right reasons at the right time.

The profound connections I make with people through that authentic, calm, confident standpoint will lead to more business. When I do go to close the deal, with faith as my context, I’ll close because it’s the best way to help the prospect, not because I need the sale.


A STORY

This morning, Thomas Tomasevic, an accountability buddy of mine asked, “How was the networking event you went to last night?”

I spent two hours in a large room full of business people and left without a single substantial lead. I did not gain even one prospect who’s likely to ever buy the training packages that are my bread and butter.

It was one of the absolute best nights of networking of my life.

I told Thomas about every substantial conversation I had last night. Here, edited just a bit for clarity, is the email I sent him recounting my great success. (In parenthesis below, is a bit of commentary I’m adding now.)

8 STRATEGIES TO POWER-UP YOUR NETWORKING

What I did all in one very fruitful evening:

1. Remember people who aren’t there.

I met two people who mentioned they do business with maritime clients – I’m connecting them with an excellent maritime photographer I know. (That adds value to the people I met since they can refer their clients to a resource. It adds value to photographer Mihael Blikshteyn because he may get business through my recommendation.)

2. Compliment people where you see strengths they don’t.

One of the people I’m connecting with Mihael is an attorney who feels she is, “not good with people…” But she can be. Based on my experience — she was good with me — I told her, “You’re better with people than you think.” (I was being honest. She could sense that. That adds value to her by starting to replace a limiting belief that she told me hampers her ability to attract new business.)

3. Your network is like your brain. It’s not just about making new connections. Strengthen existing ones too.

I ran into at least five people I already knew and deepened those connections: I impressed one with the value I gave to someone else by shifting her perspective and offering to help with a problem she was facing. I promised another person whose services I’d used that I’d make a LinkedIn recommendation of praise I’d emailed to him privately. With another, I talked about valuable sources of content online, and we traded valuable business boosting resources. The fourth, I smiled at, shook his hand, and told him I’d missed him at the last Wednesday morning meeting we both frequently attend. With the fifth, I asked if he’d done business with a lead I’d sent his way that wasn’t a fit for my company, and asked if there was anything I could do to help with that lead.

4. Trite as it is, look for the win-win (and the win-win-win).

I met the corporate giving manager of a major Seattle theater, and started the relationship off strong. I shared with her my passion for theater, and agreed to mention her and her theater to leaders I meet who care about the arts. She agreed to send me podcast guests for “Mighty Good Work“. (That’s good for both of us. By introducing them to me, her donors get a free platform to tell their stories. I get a shortcut to creating the content my listeners want, and I expand the network of leaders I’m connected to.)

This was her first Seattle Chamber event, and she asked me if I thought they’d be useful to her. I gave her some counsel about how to approach choosing which events to attend and how to meet the C-Suite folks in the crowd who can help her expand her network of leaders and grow her donor base.

5. Make promises that you will later keep. Think long term.

I met a young guy from Boeing whose job I didn’t understand. He gave me some insight about selling into Boeing. He’s going to be looking for a new position, and I told him to reach out when he starts. (I’ll gladly help him land in a great situation for him. I’m glad to know a little more about how to succeed in pitching Boeing.)

6. People love help. They love to give it. They love to get it. Create relationships between others where there’s no direct benefit to you.

I met a young woman who’s a financial advisor. I helped her shift her thinking about sales from, “I must convince them,” to, “I must simply support and offer expertise – educating without judgment.” She’ll grow her business by being valuable, gaining trust, and building rapport without raising people’s defenses. She heaved a sigh of relief to have a new, more authentic way of thinking about sales. I learned she’s feeling daunted and lonely in the male dominant field. I promised to connect her with a dynamic woman who’s an experienced veteran in the same industry who will enjoy being a mentor to her. (This connection is already made, and they are both grateful for the opportunity to get to know one another. They’ll be talking in a few days.)

7. Help build others’ businesses.

The venue this event was held in had a unique character – I sought out the event sales person for the venue, and promised to connect her with a significant Seattle event planner I know who’s never held an event there, but who will appreciate the character of the venue. (Both the venue and the event planner will derive value — one gets new business. The other has new inventory to offer her clients that’s unique in the marketplace.)

8. Recognize opportunity.

The manager of programs and partnerships at the Seattle Chamber saw me in passing, and I smiled and said, “Hi!” Unprompted, she promised to call me next month. She’d like to have me give a presentation or two at upcoming chamber events.


[mk_image src=”https://www.theyesworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/meeting-web-e1476228228525.png” image_size=”full”]

A PERSPECTIVE

I’m likely to get no business directly from any of the connections I made last night. Even so, I view it as one of my most successful nights of networking. I didn’t change the world. Not their worlds, and not mine.

A different KPI

And… The number of people upon whom I made a positive impression… The number of people for whom I made a notable difference… That’s the KPI by which I’m measuring my success and giving my performance full marks. I’m still trying to give value as a result of the evening. You may have noticed all the links in this post helping you find the people I met.

All connections are good connections. They’re all promising connections. You never know what’ll come of the seeds of goodwill sewn indiscriminately.

And, I had fun. I felt very few moments of self-consciousness all night.

Escape Self-Consciousness

Some people are very self-conscious about networking, about approaching strangers, about telling people what they do, and about asking for business. Until recently, I was self-conscious about all that.

The opposite of self-conscious is you-conscious. Be conscious of the other person and how you can help them. It’s an easier approach, free of self-consciousness, if you begin each encounter with the thought, “Who are you? How can I help?”

Cultivate Gratitude

There’s a reason a book entitled The Go Giver is so popular among top performers. Gratitude is a currency.

Are you building and banking gratitude in your network? What shifts do you need to make to your expectations and intentions around networking in order to enjoy it more and to provide more value? Are you approaching your business relationships from an improviser’s mentality — where your plan is specific enough to drive your behavior, and open enough to accommodate serendipity and allow you to recognize subtle opportunities?

Resolve to put some gratitude in the bank today, and tomorrow. And tomorrow.