Table for Two

table for two

My antennae are always up for a conversation.  Eavesdropping Joe?  Well, yes, call it an occupational (hap)hazard.  I can’t say I’m incessant with this trait, so it seems to be more prevalent when it’s big.  Case in point, I’m finishing a run in a major NE city recently and have met at a coffee shop with family and friends who are already tabled up and having iced coffees and other good stuff. At another table on the patio, two dudes are sitting across from each other.  I grab a seat on the steps to basically avoid sweating on others and then tune in. You can’t miss these two. The conversation, or as I am now calling it, the muscle flexing, is bold and powerful.

What is this connection (or lack of it) all about?  Sounds like a sales call actually. One guy is just downloading a ton of product-like speak: “We can do this, and we can do that, and it connects to this and it connects to that, and it will be really awesome, cool, and work really well with everything you could ever imagine doing for your business, your family, God and country.  You can change the world with what we are doing!” Holy cow! I’ll take a dozen! The other coffee-mate sits quietly and occasionally interjects more benefits without so much as a question from the first as he looks for some reaction as to the benefits of what he has in his bag. And then it hits me…this is an interview!

Now, coffee-mate, who is really the potential manager for product guy, starts to talk. And boy is he going to “out tell” his candidate.  “We’ve got lots of cool stuff for you to sell. And you will make great commissions and other benefits and be the best in the office and we have great culture and we all hang out together and we go to the gym and it can all be yours as long as you learn to have consultative sales calls that establish a connection with your prospect, build trust and create an opportunity to sell them basically everything we have to sell!”  (Run-on sentence intentional for effect here). Now his candidate, whom I will now call “Can Do It!,” is chomping at the bit to get in on this conversational mosh pit. “Blah, blah, blah, I’m a leader because I’m telling you I’m a leader and coached my intramural floor hockey team in college and it’s because I am a leader that I led and played at the same time.” Not to be outdone, Can Do It’s future boss is right back up on his feet; “Yep, I coach too, and the whole office works out together and by the way, no one cares how much you bench press after the age of 25.”  Let me just say after a five-mile run, I am about to pass out just keeping up with this WWE version of What’s My Line?

I know this, I do not want to work for or with either of these guys.  Interviews are frankly sales calls, and this was a doozy. This is Tell-Sell-Yell at its finest: the quintessential transactional conversation.

So what to do now?  Start thinking like a buyer!  What is it that’s important to them?  When you buy, how do you think? Act? Be?   What if you treat everyone like they are shopping for their next new new?  It’s a perspective shift for sure. We all know the cliches around listening.  We’ve been told incessantly that one has two ears and one mouth and that they should be used in the same proportion.  For me, it’s more about amping up curiosity, severely reducing judgement and yet, nudging the other along, getting them to stretch just a little into other ideas, possibilities, a new new for them. So, what to do next? How about what to BE next instead?!?  Richard Branson says “We are human beings, not, human doings.”  Think about that for just a minute. OK, game on:

  1. Be yourself and no Mountain Dew. You have inherent strengths, knowledge, values, intuition. Connect to yourself. Popular words of the guru blogosphere these days are authentic, genuine, integrity.  They’re a little buzzy and still powerful. So be yourself and act like you’re supposed to be there. And lay off the testosterone and caffeine prior to…
  2. Be curious and not Judge Judy.  It’s judgements and feelings that get in our way.  Remove the black robe, get out from behind the bench and approach your conversation from a child’s perspective. Kids are so damn curious!  Be careful, this isn’t an interrogation. Recent surveys show that the higher up the org chart you navigate, the less those that inhabit those lofty spots like to feel interrogated.  Nudge, don’t judge, and be curious.
  3. Be confident and not professional wrestler confident.  A wise friend and colleague once said to me: “A fourth grader only has to be smarter than a third grader.”  Words to live by and when I’m feeling a bit stumped, I remember that mantra. It works. Be respectful and remember that your conversational partner is pretty smart too.  They may teach you something in the process and that’s their gift to you. If you are wrestling with them or yourself, you can miss the learning opportunity.
  4. Be quiet and not be the Invisible Man (or Woman).  There is power in silence. It can be one of your greatest questions too!  It provides space for others to not just participate, they also have space to formulate how they want to participate. It can take at least eight seconds to respond to just one question.  One! So be patient, and land questions with enough space for all to contemplate. And if you tend to always be silent, get in there, mix it up.

Doors open when we are curious, and not “judgy” (my usage of judgemental).  Your conversation can create a connection and that’s the start of a wonderful relationship.  And if it isn’t, at least the coffee will be that much more enjoyable and you won’t have to compare bench press stats for the tab.


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