My grandmother got it.
She understood the power of listening.
She would always sit and focus attentively when I came to see her. She didn’t tell me how to fix things, or what I should, or shouldn’t do; she just sat quietly as I talked.
I was in college, discovering a new world of friends, facts, and the fraternity of scholars. I was infatuated with the new, the modern, and thinking on the edge. I was in the process of throwing “old school” out the window.
In spite of my forward thinking and sophistication, every week or so, I needed to re-anchor myself in my world, the real world. I did that by driving 20 miles to her “shop,” the family plumbing business that she continued to run into her late 70’s. She’d see me coming in the front door. As I made my way through the Kelvinator appliances and Sherwin-Williams paint display and back to her office, we would meet half way and sit in her conversation area, a place that looked a lot like home; with sofa, comfortable chairs and coffee table. She would beckon me to sit, and talk; and I did. She would smile expectantly as she listed to me recount my hopes, my dreams, and my ambitions.
My grandmother has been gone for thirty years. But my memory of her, and to some extent, her presence, lingers on. When I struggle with life, or some difficult problem, I often find myself, in my mind, having one of our conversations; sitting, talking, and sensing, that somehow, she knew it would all turn out just fine.
The gift she gave was her willingness to listen. She gave me the will to get back up, dust myself off, and never give up. By her actions she instilled in me a belief that no matter how bad it got, no matter how difficult the problem, it will get solved, and things will, one way or another, turn out all right.
This is what we do for those that we take the time to hear, and understand.
That’s the gift of listening!
With a confusing array of choices, change happening at an alarming rate, information overload, and being pressed for time; all fueling the anxiety and distrust level of the average customer, how do you build trust in a wary world?
With the cards stacked against you from the start, what chance to you have to win a customer’s trust?
Taming The Wild Cat
My son Daniel is a missionary to cats. He loves them and has always had one around. He discovered a very wild and stray cat living in the storage shed next to his house. At first if one just looked at that cat it would bolt. You really couldn’t see it, just the gray streak and a dust cloud as it vanished from sight.
Over time, Daniel was able to win that wild cat’s confidence and eventually domesticated her. He named her Kitty. She’s beautiful. She’s become an indoor cat for the most part exception for the occasional night outdoors to satisfy her craving for fresh vermin.
Care, Caution, and Consistency
How did he win her over? Simple.
He cared about the cat.
He thought about her needs and what she would want: (safety, food, a warm place to sleep, humans to own and dominate.)
He was cautious.
He didn’t overwhelm the cat or rush her to get used to humans. He moved slowly, and gradually moved closer to her without spooking her. He always held his hands where she could see them and be sure they weren’t a threat. He spoke softly and his motions were smooth and non-threatening.
Finally, he was consistent.
He did the same thing every day, without changing the routine. The way he approached her varied little, what he said varied even less. His actions were consistent.
While this might seem simplistic, it is no more so than putting the big rocks in your jar first, or that men and women are from different planets. Taming a wild kitty is the perfect metaphor for building customer trust and taking care of them.
What does Care look like?
If we apply the parable of the taming of Kitty to building customer trust, what would it look like to care for our customers? First of all, it must be real care and not just faked caring. People, like cats, see through that pretty fast. Caring means being focused on their needs, their fears, and their preoccupations: the things that make them wary.
How do you find out that stuff? Just listen! The first step of building customer trust is by caring. The first step of caring is listening to their needs. Anyone can listen. But the kind of listening that says “I care” is a deep, intentional, focused listening. It doesn’t require a license or a degree, just a willingness to focus on, and care about the well-being of the other person.
What does Caution look like?
Caution means not getting too close too soon. It means not stepping over a boundary that needs to be there. It means knowing what might trigger wariness in your customer and being careful not to make any fast or threatening moves that would spook them. I avoid certain types of purchases just because I don’t want to run the gauntlet of over-friendly sales staff that want to get too chummy as soon as I walk through the door.
What does Consistency look like?
Once you are clear on the person’s needs and make a promise to deliver something, be sure to fulfill that commitment on time, every time. Follow the lead of Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks. He says in his book Pour Your Heart Into It: “Every step of the way, I made a point to under promise and over deliver. In the long run, that’s the only way to ensure security in any job.” Consistency is just doing the same good thing over and over.
Choices, change, information, and time constraints are beyond our control.
We can, however, reduce their impact by consistently exercising care to soothe the wariness in others that is a part of our world. The mind is designed to hone in on threats. Once a threat is experienced, the brain takes a picture of all the stuff connected with that threat, so that the next time any of those same elements are present the mind goes into a state of high alert. The same thing happens even in the absence of the threat. You’re not the threat, but something that you do or say might trigger the threat. By using care, caution, and constancy you’re retraining someone’s mind not to be wary around you. You’re teaching their neurons you can be trusted.
You can be in a vulnerable position because I will behave in a positive way. Yes you could get hurt in a situation like this, and you don’t have any control over whether or not I will do the right thing, yet you can trust me.
When I think about trust Charlie Brown comes to mind. Lucy always insists on holding the football for him to kick.
He chooses to trust her; all the while suspicious that she will jerk the ball away at the last moment causing him to fall flat on his back. Never disappointing him, she does exactly that, consistently betraying his trust.
What exactly is trust?
It is the extent to which I am willing to put myself in a vulnerable position under particular circumstances. It is my having confidence that you will behave in a positive way fully aware that I could be hurt if you don’t, while knowing that I have no control over how you behave.
I trust you to do the right thing.
I trust you to hold the football while I punt.
Emile Balzac said back in 1799, You don’t have to like your banker, you just have to trust him. I beg to differ. My grandmother ran a plumbing shop for many years. She always chuckled when she said, “you’ve got to do business with your friends, because your enemies sure won’t do business with you.” Friends are the people we trust. We do business with those we trust.
An enduring business relationship is always built on trust, and to some degree, on friendship
Trust is in short supply these days.
The fall of Enron and the scandals that rocked big financial institutions over the past few years have impacted our ability to trust. People are more wary than they have been since the Vietnam War era, and before that, the Great Depression. But social psychologists hypothesize that there is another factor that creates distrust in people.
Researchers believe that apart from these scandals, wariness, and scarcity of trust in the marketplace are signs of the times or the malaise of the new millennium. Apart from past scandals There are four sociological reasons why people are wary. They are the overabundance of choices, the accelerated rate of change, information overload, and time constrains.
1. Overabundance of choices (Overwhelming Choices)
There are just too many things for people to choose from, so many choices that people “freeze.” Remember hearing that Henry Ford said, “you can have a car in any color you like, as long as it’s black”? Now you can get all kinds of features on your car, your pizza, your phone, and your coffee. The flooding, the overloading of our senses by so many choices, makes us anxious and wary. It’s as if, “I can’t choose, there is just too much, so I give up!”
2. Change Happens Quickly (Change Fatigue)
Life is changing at such a dizzying rate that we are constantly having to learn new things just to stay up with technology – Look at the top of your web browser. A few months ago little symbols started popping up. I recognize the one for Facebook, but there are others. A blue and black box for Delicious, a line of little block figures for Myspace, An SU for Stumbled upon, a T for, well I know what that one’s for: Twitter. I can barely do Facebook, and now I have all these other things to learn. I’m overwhelmed.
3. Too much information (Information Overload)
Another thing that makes us wary is the flood of information about all that we might consider purchasing. You can google a product or a company and find the good, bad, the ugly, and sometimes just pulp fiction. Can you ever know too much? Don’t ask about that sushi, or think too much about that veal parmigiana. You don’t want to know too much about the other people who slept in that hotel room the night before you did… sometimes too much information is just downright disturbing. They got Bin Laden, and that’s enough, I don’t need to see the pictures. Yet we have it, all that extraneous information and it overwhelms us. There’s a point at which you have all the information you need about a product. Going beyond that begins to numb the mind and confuse the issue. Our brains can’t keep track of it all. We back off, get anxious, wary and distrustful.
4. Time Constraints (Hurry up, my schedule is full)
We live in a rushed world of fast food and full schedules. Our time is parceled into teeny tiny slivers with nothing to spare. A friend told me recently he learned a lesson long ago, leave the margins of his life uncluttered and open, and not to schedule every minute of every day on his calendar. He began scheduling meetings with himself and discovered he really liked those meetings. From there he determined not to schedule in the margins of his life. Our margins, and all the lines in our schedule are crammed full of stuff. Having every minute of our lives filled with busyness makes our anxiety level go through the roof. Anxiety makes us wary. Trust is the casualty of our wariness.
So even if you’re doing everything right to earn trust in the marketplace the cards are stacked against you. Don’t despair, there is something you can do. I call it Taming The Wild Cat….
Look for more… see you soon!
Your schedule is full. Your calendar is packed with stuff. Notes, details, and footnotes cover every inch of the page. It’s one of those crazy-making days where when it rains it pours. Projects blur into other projects. Unexpected phone calls interrupt your thinking. Little fires get you off task. By six that evening you’re frazzled and you still have stuff to do to prepare for tomorrow. You’re one step in front of the steamroller; If you stumble you’re a goner. On a day like this, being a hermit in the Ozarks doesn’t sound so bad.
I was having coffee with an associate. A mutual friend stopped by our booth to chat. We talked about how getting too busy messes up our priorities, blinds us to the important things and can very quickly screw up our lives. The friend said that twenty years ago he learned not to write in the margins of life. He went on to tell us how he leaves gaps in his schedule, careful not to fill up every moment of the day with activities. He laughed as he confessed he even schedules meetings with himself. He discovered that he really liked those meetings and got a lot done. In parting, he said by not writing in the margins of life he has time to stop and speak to folks who need to talk in that moment. That is his mission to the world. He’s a corporate chaplain and practices just being a presence in the workplace; a heart of compassion, an ear to listen, and a friend in need.
Such a concept! Don’t write in the margins of life. Save time for people who might otherwise appear to be interruptions in your day. The margins are opportunities to listen to people who just may have been sent your way by divine appointment. Who knows, just maybe the most important thing you do today might happen because you left room in the margins of your life.
I teach a seminar on the power of listening. No, I am not an expert on the topic. I just realize how important listening is and decided long ago that I needed to make a lifetime quest of becoming better at it.
The other day I was chatting with a friend whose words stopped me cold in my tracks after he said, “when I meet someone for the first time and really need to focus on their name, who they are, what they do, and the details of their life, I get so preoccupied about making a good impression on them that I miss all those important facts.” It dawned on me; I feel that way too! I realized he gave words to something I have been thinking about for some time.
My friend hit the nail on the head (or maybe my head.) We get so distracted by who we are, what we’re doing, and how we can impress that other person that we forget that what really matters is how well we focus on them. For me the moment of clarity usually strikes about five minutes into the conversation. The fog of self-centeredness clears and I realize that I have been so self-conscious up till that moment that I haven’t a clue what that other person has said. I don’t like being that way and I really want to change, so I’ve started a little mantra that I try to run through when I know I’m going to meet someone for the first time. It goes like this
It’s not about me! It’s not about me! It’s not about me!
The greatest gift I can give another person is to set aside me and focus on them. That is the essence of powerful listening!
Caring for my vineyard, I learn about life. Late August when the vines are loaded with grapes is one of my favorite times of year. I wake up early on harvest day anticipating the delight of cutting bunches of fruit from each vine. A great sense of accomplishment comes from a bumper crop. But to get there the vintner needs to prune the vines in late winter. So, as the days are getting longer I find myself lingering in the vineyard looking for dead and diseased branches. Those branches that if left on the plant might make the entire vineyard sick, I cut and remove. I spend my time pruning here, clipping there, preparing the vines so that they will produce bountifully. If allowed to grow naturally, they would appear to be vigorous since that is their nature. While they might cover a lot of ground, the harvest would be meager at best. Since long, lanky vines are not highly productive, the work done right now has direct impact on the size of the crop in the fall. Ninety percent of last year’s growth has to go.
When pruning I often wonder, if the vines could talk, would they be crying, screaming, hurling invectives, or just begging for me to stop with the cutting? I do what I need to do to make them productive and healthy. I imagine for the vine this is deep pain. So it is with life, and with us. In order to produce healthy fruit we need pruning. How about you? Are you branching out in areas that might look impressive, but don’t produce well? Are you holding on to things in your life that are making you sick, or just keeping you from vigorous growth? Spring is a great time to look at your own life and ask yourself if this is the direction you want to grow. Will what you’re doing bear fruit in your life? When you take that inventory, have the courage to follow through with what’s necessary. Get rid of the dead wood. Cut out the branches that wander aimlessly. It’s pruning time!
Have you ever been going down the road of life and suddenly find yourself in a panic? Frightened? Anxious? Wondering, How did I go from blue skies to gale force winds and torrential rains? You know what I’m talking about. The phone call. That unexpected bill from the IRS. The misunderstanding that goes postal. A fallout between lovers. Your boss drops by for a little visit that ends with an escort to the parking lot. You’ve been there, haven’t you? How is it that nothing on the outside has changed, but your world feels like it’s been knocked of the tracks. Though the birds are still singing and the sun is still shining, it seems that nothing will ever be the same. These moments feel like I stepped in a deep hole and tumbled to the bottom. How do I get out? I have rehearsed this in my mind.
The next time this happens, I’ll pray, read a book on positive thinking… do self-talk… exercise, go for a ride on my motorcycle, have a party, I’ll….
The next time this happens, I’ll pray, read a book on positive thinking… do self-talk… exercise, go for a ride on my motorcycle, have a party, I’ll…. It must be the concussion from the fall, because at the bottom of the hole, I can’t remember to do those things, even when I have prepared for it. One way of getting over it might be to stop at the nearest liquor store and have a chat with Jack Daniels. He can cheer me up, but there is always later the next day. And the next day is always worse.
Be still and know… …
When I find myself down the fear hole, the one thing that helps is to get quiet. There is a Psalm in Jewish Scripture (46) that says Be still and know that I am God! (His exclamation, not mine) I have to make myself be still. To listen for the voice of God. All those rehearsed strategies, even praying, are about me doing something. I panic and am compelled to spring into action and do something. Being still feels counter-intuitive. Like driving on ice and spinning out of control. I always turn the wheel the wrong way. We tend to do the very action that does us in.
So, How do I learn to be still? By doing just that, by practicing stillness. If you have been following my blog, you’ll know I am the president of the World Organization for the Advancement of Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder. So I don’t come by being still honestly. I have to intentionally practice the art of being still. And in those moments of stillness, I become aware of a presence that is way bigger than me. When I rest quietly in the shadow of that presence, I find peace. Peace that is free from fear.