Don’t fix everything.
We live in a society where if someone says, “I’m discouraged about x” or “I’m confused about y,” we rush to fix it. So much so that they may then prescribe a self-help regimen designed to prevent the other person from ever feeling discouraged or confused. Yet without those emotions, the human species would be dead, and the individuals in question would, too. They’re an evolutionary necessity as important as curiosity or the ability to ponder.
Don’t make everything “all right.” Sometimes, in our bid for inclusion, we render a conversation incoherent. Someone says “X,” and we say,”That’s all right.” Someone else says, “Not x,” and we say, “That’s all right, too.” The logic of it renders speech itself trivial. I know a CEO (not me) who doesn’t let it slide. “I’m not done with that yet,” says the CEO. “Oh, that’s ok,” goes the response.“I know, I wasn’t apologizing.”
What does this mean for sales? Imagine a conversation where you’ve been served excellent whiskey, and everyone has commented on it. Then the talk turns to business, with Joseph, Angel, and Elizabeth debating a topic. Finally, they notice Ray (another partner), who has been silent, and they turn to him and ask, “What do you think?”
Ray pauses, looks up, and makes eye contact with each of them. He says, “I think… and this is only my opinion… which is of course subjective…”
Angel interrupts and says, “Just spit it out man. It’s ok. You’re among friends” (trying to fix it).
Elizabeth agrees, “Yeah, Ray. No one’s going to judge you for what you say” (again trying to fix it).
Ray ignores these comments and continues: “But, with deference to the fact that others have mentioned this previously…”
Joseph rolls his eyes and taps his pencil.
Ray finishes: “I still say…in all sincerity…” He pauses again. “…That this is excellent whiskey.”
The table is silent for a moment. All eyes are on Ray. Angel’s mouth has dropped open. Elizabeth, who is the smartest one of the bunch, bursts out laughing.
“What?” asks Joseph.
Elizabeth responds. “He just said, ‘This is on you. Don’t pull me into it. I won’t express an opinion.’”
Angel finds his voice, “So you think it doesn’t matter whether…”
Elizabeth interrupts Angel. “He didn’t say that.”
Joseph speaks up, “It’s all right. You don’t have to express an opinion” (trying to fix it).
Elizabeth interrupts again. “I don’t think he was asking.”
It’s a common adage: There’s a point after something is said in a sales conversation when the first person to speak loses the sale to the other party—either seller to the client, or client to the seller. It’s usually not just a matter of speaking up to end an awkward silence (fix it); it’s to smooth over a speculated reaction in the other person, something that hasn’t even been allowed the space to be expressed. We often refuse to let other people sit with something that’s been said and just breathe in it for a few moments. We fix it. Before it’s even broken.
One more conversation. This one a debate, involving Rory, Chaz, Aiden, and Harris:
Rory: “Chaz, you believe God has a reason for everything, right?”
Rory: “So you think everything that happens is random, and God has no control over it.”
Aiden: “I’m confused.”
Chaz: (no response)
Rory: “She said she’s confused.”
Chaz: “I heard that.”
Rory: “Well, so am I. So which one of those things do you believe?”
Chaz: “Were those the only two options?”
Rory: “They’re the only two I can think of.”
Chaz: (no response)
Harris: “Chaz’s always been a little rude.”
Aiden: “I see that.”
Rory: “I think he’s just afraid to answer.”
Chaz: “This is excellent whiskey.”
Aiden: “He said he can’t think of any other answers.”
Rory: “Right, I can’t. And I’d like a reply.”
Chaz: “Is it surprising?”
Rory: “That I’d like a reply?”
Chaz: “That you can’t think of other answers.”
Rory: “I see what you mean. He IS rude.”
Chaz: (no response)
Aiden: “What a terrible thing to say.”
Harris: “Why would you say that?”
Chaz: “I believe you asked for a response.”
Harris: “But you could have said something else.”
Rory: “Yes, couldn’t you have answered differently?”
Chaz: “You just said you couldn’t think of how.”
Aiden: “You could have simply picked one of his answers.”
Chaz: (no reply)
Harris: “You could have just declined to answer.”
Chaz: “Since it’s your house, Harris, I’ll remind you, respectfully, that you said I was rude for not answering, and Rory specifically demanded a response. To which of his two questions, I don’t remember. But I answered them both at once.”
Aiden: “So rude.”
Chaz: “Pardon me, but I just remembered that I have a prior obligation that starts in a few minutes. Unfortunately, if I don’t catch a cab…”
I didn’t mark where people tried to fix things and make them all right. Instead, I showed a person (Chaz) who lets people say things, have their confusion, feel awkward, live in the awkward space, and even mistake his meaning or his intent without rushing to fix it. A salesperson must be able to selectively utilize this ability.
Let the pin drop. Let people squirm—whether we’ve said something, or our sales “wingman” has—and say nothing at all to fix it. Let the seconds tick by on the clock. Let the full impact settle, and let the other person react and play out a full reaction without stopping it. Perhaps without ever addressing it.
I do this in negotiations sometimes because not every problem has to be solved. “I’m concerned about x, y, and z” are not requests to solve something. We need not pick them up. Often they are smoke—miasma—a person looking for frail reinforcement for a position that is about to crumble to pieces when we address a different premise, leaving no need to address these other concerns at all. So I let him have the space to just say those things. Complaints: “We were expecting this faster.” Worries: “I’m not sure it’s even possible that…” Criticisms: “I didn’t like it when this was done.” Let them all get said without responding. What this does is free up space to target, surgically, the thing that MUST be addressed in order to break the chain that restrains the deal.
This is just a bit of kung-fu from Daniel’s Shaolin Manual of Sales. It’s not a technique that one can “use” as much as a mental attitude that one must develop, with a tangible application.
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