Waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait, the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting. – Henri Nouwen
As a reminder, I’m writing these posts to come up with a first draft for a book project, as I described here.
So far I’ve got 19 posts, 20,000 odd words, jumbled together, spilling out.
And maybe it’s time for a little bit of reflection, some angst, a look back at whether this is working at all.
You see, what I’m trying to do is make sense of thing – first for myself and then in a way that makes sense to others.
But that’s a difficult process, more difficult perhaps than many of us realize.
Maybe it’s because we are brought up to think that we have to be active, always moving, always working, always driving ourselves as hard as we can because…
That kind of thinking does seem to have resulted in the world we have today – none of it is the result of passive acceptance of the status quo.
Animals, after all, do just what they have to do, nothing more – and you don’t see them going around inventing writing or going to the moon.
So, in principle, doing stuff is a good thing.
Is doing too much a good thing as well?
The picture above shows you a wave form – it’s been a while since I did physics and I’ll need to look up the exact words at some point – but you’ll get this if you imagine a puddle or a pond.
Drop a stone into it.
Now you’ve done something, made a splash.
That act, the energy you’ve transferred to the water by dropping a stone into it sets off the wave.
But then, what do you get?
You get ripples, the wave moving further and further away, getting smaller over time until finally the energy is dissipated and the water returns to being smooth and undisturbed.
To get the full sense of what you’ve done you need to let the ripples happen.
If you throw in stone after stone and stir the waters with a stick for good measure, the waves overlap, the forces are different and you get a mess, a churning, a roiling, your own little storm.
What does this have to do with listening.
Think of any news interview you’ve seen on TV – does the reporter ever give the interviewee a chance to say something fully?
Often questions are posed in a way to force an answer that is hopefully headline material and the reporter interrupts, pushes to try get something newsworthy.
Experienced interviewees, knowing this, ignore the question that is asked and simply say what they want to say.
This dance is not about listening, it’s about performing.
What would listening look like?
You start with the initial disturbance, which is your first question.
That’s the stone that starts it all off.
But then, when you get an answer to that question, you need to watch for the ripples, but to make them visible you may need to ask for something more.
For example, let’s say you sell a technology that halves the cost of doing something for your prospect – you pitch your idea and ask what they think.
They’re enthusiastic – anything that saves money is worth considering.
That’s your first response.
Now, if you have ever actually gone through the process and tried to get them to sign, you’ll know that it never is that simple to get the deal done.
Why is that?
One reason that comes up again and again is that the people involved didn’t take the time to see the big picture – they went from the first positive reaction to trying to close a deal – and there’s often quite a few other things that you might not see.
For example, the technology may cut your costs but you have to spend money up front.
So the impact on cashflow may be a concern.
Now, the technology is sold on the basis that it cuts your costs – but the investment you make will add something to your accounting costs for the year – so that does mean net profits will be down by the cost of the technology.
That’s ok, you say, you’ll more than recover that because of all the savings you’ll make on the projects you have with clients.
But, if the person selling you the technology is also selling to all your competitors then someone is going to try and win business by passing the savings on to the customer by lowering their costs, and so to compete you will need to drop yours.
The person who benefits from more efficient technology is usually the customer, in the form of lower prices.
Not much sticks to the ribs of the person buying the technology.
Now, none of this will be said explicitly – most managers haven’t looked at the theory around these issues.
What they have are rules of thumb, things that protects them from the rippling consequences of a decision.
And that’s one of two things – either they don’t make decisions until they absolutely have to or they ask for huge, quick and guaranteed paybacks.
So, you will find people asking you for 1 or 2 year paybacks.
Nobody wants to take a risk on your bright idea.
Now, you’re not going to find out any of this unless you take the time to listen, to ask questions, to find out which projects have worked at the company you’re talking to and which ones haven’t.
It’s by following the ripples that you’ll get a sense of where the dilemmas are, where conflict rears up, where misunderstanding lies.
All too often sales people think sales is about them talking.
It’s not – it’s about getting your prospect to talk through their situation, their problem and, most importantly, the kinds of solutions that might work for them.
Once they tell you that you know what they’re looking for and you know what you need to deliver.
The questions for you are – can you do that and can you do it well and can you prove that to them?
It’s when you’ve seen the ripples die away that you will be invited to say your piece and that’s really when you should do your bit of talk.
Here’s a model of what that might look like.
The thing you really have to get is that it’s not about you.
It’s about them.
And to really help someone else you can’t just throw what you know at them.
You have to first understand them and, in particular, understand what they’re up against.
Let’s dig into how to do that in the next post.