Some recent blogs by others have illustrated a surprisingly oldfashioned approach to engaging with prospects and clients. In a nutshell they illustrate the belief that you have to be something other than you are, someone other than you are, if you are going to be successful. I don’t think this is a good idea.
One person writes:
I know two people who dumb themselves down as a helpful daily habit…
The lady in question uses phrases such as:
• “It’s always enlightening speaking to you”
• “I know you’ll know better than I on this one”
• “I’m sure you can help me out here”
The man in question often says:
• “You’re the expert, you can tell me”
• “I don’t know a patch on what you know”
• “That’s why we’re here, because you know what you’re doing”
Why? Because it’s flattering and it makes people feel more confident and more comfortable working with us.
I think playing dumb is a high risk strategy.
If you are concealing knowledge you might have, that can be a good thing; if you describe that approach as not assuming you know the answer someone is going to give you before you ask them the question, it’s even better. There’s a good story about this on my website.
“It’s always enlightening speaking to you” would be hard to say in England without appearing sarcastic. Remember that the meaning of a message is what the recipient makes of it, so it doesn’t matter whether the speaker thought she was being sarcastic or not.
“I know you’ll know better than I on this one” is either condescending or bleeding obvious depending on context (and shows a degree of preciousness in the use of “I”—when “me” is correct—which is unlikely to endear the questioner to the client).
And the remaining four examples exhibit varying degrees of insincerity which all jar. “I don’t know a patch on what you know” (grammar, please) is unlikely to be true, in general, and, while it may be true of a particular interview subject, I think, if someone said it to me, I’d be feeling thoroughly condescended to.
Insincerity, inauthenticity and, in the extreme, deceit are never going to be clever gambits when attempting to build a relationship with a client. After all, if it isn’t always enlightening speaking to you, but I say it is, even if the sarcasm passes you by, you’ll get a sense of being patronised, if not actually realise you’re being lied to.
The idea that you feel you would have to “dumb down” (which is a particularly unfortunate term to choose) when communicating with someone is rather insulting because the only inference they can draw is that you think they’re stupid and the only way you’ll get anything from the conversation is if you lower yourself to their level.
Don’t underestimate the extent to which anyone’s thoughts, beliefs and intentions are picked up subliminally by those they speak to. If someone is pretending to be what they are not, it will instantly get picked up. (I heard on Radio 4 this morning that people start to be able to detect this incongruity form the age of eighteen months.)
Another blogger tells us how to “How to use silence to get more from your prospects”. He writes “for us sales people it can be one of the most effective tools in our arsenal…”.
This is a remarkably aggressive approach and it’s really unattractive. Arsenals, of course, are weapon stores (not tool boxes) and this approach to sales seems to be to all about attacking a prospect.
He writes “many prospects will find short periods of silence uncomfortable and they will generally offer you additional information that they may have otherwise kept to themselves”. So, the idea is to make your prospects uncomfortable so you can trick them into telling you stuff they wouldn’t otherwise have volunteered?
He advises “Stay strong as it’s simply a case of ‘he who speaks first loses.’” Once more, it is all about fighting.
In the blog, the concept of negotiation is illustrated by a picture of two people armwrestling, and the text goes on to advocate the verbal equivalent: “At this pivotal point, periods of silence can extend well past a few seconds so it’s important you don’t allow it to make you feel uncomfortable. I have been in meetings where silence has lasted well over two to three minutes…”
So, the prospect must be made to feel uncomfortable, but the seller must not be. And read that last sentence again: “I have been in meetings where silence has lasted well over two to three minutes…”. I cannot imagine how awkward that must make the prospect.
I believe there are several important points to be drawn from these examples
(1) A belief that, if you’re yourself, that won’t be good enough. Possibly, in the second case, that might be true, but only for the next reason…
(2) Both examples indicate a belief in a scarcity model. That’s the set of beliefs which runs: there isn’t enough work to go around, so I must not share any opportunities, I must play various inauthentic roles, I can only ‘give in order to get back’ rather than just give, I must take rather than receive, and, in the extreme, I must fight not only my ‘competitors’ but also my clients!
The problem with the first belief is that, whether or not you are good enough, inauthentically masquerading as something else will be less good. Because the other person will pick it up, if only subconsciously.
Of course, there are a few people who can deploy what is sometimes (wrongly) called a Socratic approach—I do it myself, but I make sure the party either knows I am doing it (it’s a game), they find out within minutes (as illustrated by the story, Train), or it is out of respect for the fact that they are processing information and their feelings and interrupting them would be counterproductive as well as discourteous.
With both beliefs, rather than be judgemental about our current approach, it would be more helpful to address why we believe that authenticity is not the best policy and why we believe we will not survive if we are ourselves.
After all, increasingly, people are finding that an approach which treats people as equals in an empathetic and adult way yields far more successful results.
Rather than making it all about how much you can “get”—can take, in other words—from your prospects, would it not be more constructive to make it about how you might be able to help them?