HBR: Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

With the upcoming NRLA Leadership meeting, this blog from the Harvard Business Review by Rebecca Knight may be very useful:

Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

In every conversation at work, there’s the explicit discussion happening — the words being spoken out loud — and the tacit one. To be successful in most organizations, it’s important to understand the underlying conversations and reactions that people in the room are having. But if you aren’t picking up on those subtle cues, how can you learn to do so? What signals should you be looking for? And what can you do to influence the unspoken dynamics?

What the Experts Say

“Knowing how to read between the lines is a critical workplace skill,” says Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of How to Be Happy at Work. “You need to understand other people — what they want, what they don’t want, their fears, hopes, dreams, and motivations,” she says. “This builds trust. And trust is fundamental to getting things done.” In addition, you must be aware of your effect on others, according to Karen Dillon, coauthor of How Will You Measure Your Life? “You need to be constantly assessing how other people are responding to you,” she says. “Some people find this easy and intuitive. For others, it’s a challenge.” The good news is that this skill can be learned. Here are some ways how.

Observe

The best way to read a room is to pay close attention to people — and not just what they’re saying. “If you’re relying [solely] on their words, you’re only getting half the picture,” McKee says. Upon entering a meeting, she recommends, do “a quick scan of the individuals,” noting “who’s next to whom, who’s smiling, who’s not, who’s standing, who’s sitting, and how much space is between people.” Next, try to pick up on “the almost invisible clues on how people are feeling” by looking carefully at “their facial expressions, posture, and body language.” Be on the lookout for “quick microexpressions” such as “fleeting smiles, raised eyebrows, or even tiny frowns.” Vigilant observation will give you the information you need to interpret group dynamics. Dillon recommends identifying role models to further improve your social awareness. “Think of people you admire who are great at reading the room,” she says. “Isolate the things they do and try to emulate those.”

Control how much you talk

You can’t observe if you’re spending most of your time talking. You need to listen, Dillon says. “Be conscious of how much you are saying.” Whether you’re in a room with a large group of people, a small group, or you’re speaking with a colleague one-on-one, she advises taking frequent pauses “to really think about what the other person is saying” and watching out for the nonverbal cues. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk; there is “no shame” in silence. When the conversation is more intimate, Dillon says, you must strive to “make the other person feel heard.” Be present. Be engaged. Make eye contact. “Position yourself so that you’re not inviting others to butt into your conversation. Help the other people feel confident that you are all in the moment together.” After the other person says something, paraphrase what they said to indicate that you’re paying attention. Similarly, “if the other person doesn’t seem to be hearing what you’re saying, and you start to realize that you’re talking at them, you should ask a question,” she adds. Try open-ended questions such as “What do you think about…?” or, “What are the consequences of…?” or, “Have you experienced this?” The answers to these questions help you uncover what’s really going on.

Interpret your observations

Once you’ve “tuned into the emotions and energy in the room,” you can “try to make sense of what you think you know,” McKee says. She recommends “generating multiple hypotheses about what’s going on.” Consider the people in the group more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states. “What’s happening in their lives? What’s going on in their jobs? What do you know about these people?” If you don’t know much, this can be tricky, but you can still come up with hypotheses for what’s motivating people. At the same time, you shouldn’t project your feelings onto the group. “Keep your emotions in check,” McKee says, adding that this is a feat that “takes tremendous skill and self-control.” If, say, the room is reverberating tension, don’t let yourself “be hijacked by negative energy, and don’t give in to your natural inclination to be frightened and angry.” Remember, too, that the emotions you perceive are not personal. “It probably doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

Check your hypotheses

When you’ve developed a few explanations for what’s going on in the room, check your understanding. You can do this by continuing to gather further information — though you should continue to be open to what you’re seeing and sensing so that you don’t fall prey to confirmation bias. You can also ask people directly, in private, McKee says. When you’re in one-on-one conversations, you might say something like, “In the meeting I saw you furrow your brow when discussion turned to the xyz project — how do you feel about it?” Most likely, your colleagues will be pleased you noticed, she says. When you make note of people’s feelings and reactions, they “feel attended to.” Another tactic McKee suggests is talking with a trusted colleague, mentor, or coach. “Talk about what you’ve observed — not in a gossipy way, but as a learning opportunity,” she says. “You want someone else to check ideas with” so that you can say, “What do you think is going on with that colleague? Or that coalition?”

Put your perceptions into practice

If in the midst of a meeting or interaction, you notice that things are getting tense or heated, you can “take the opportunity to shift the emotional reality of the room,” McKee says. “Use humor,” she adds. “Or empathize with the group — make them feel okay.” She recommends determining who in the room has “the most social or hierarchical capital” and then focusing on getting that person on your side. “It could be a person who has the most seniority, or the person who others are sitting closest to. It could be the person who’s telling jokes and has the ability to lighten the mood.” Keep an eye out “for any positive signals” — the executive in the corner who’s smiling, for instance — and concentrate on those. Importantly, continue to pay attention to what’s not being said. “Most people are just waiting to talk,” she says. As a result, “we may catch most of the words, but we miss the music.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Consider the people in the room more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states.
  • Look for microexpressions such as fleeting smiles or raised eyebrows. These offer clues to group dynamics and individual emotions.
  • Isolate the behaviors that your socially aware role model exhibits and try to emulate them.

Don’t:

  • Be distracted. Maintain eye contact and be present and engaged in conversations with others.
  • Make it all about you. Ask open-ended questions to help you uncover what’s really going on.
  • Allow yourself to be hijacked by a room’s negative energy. Keep your emotions in check and do what you can to shift the emotional reality of the room.

Case Study #1: Pay attention to people’s body language and facial expressions

As the chief human resources officer at Prosek Partners, the global PR company, Karen Niovitch Davis has a good deal of experience reading rooms. “I’ve had a 20+ year career in HR,” she says. “A lot of what I do is about trying to really understand what people are saying when they are not actually saying it.”

Every week, she attends a management meeting at Prosek for senior vice presidents, managing directors, and partners. The company’s CEO leads the meeting, and Karen, because of her role, is often aware of what’s on the agenda.

“Since some of the things that we discuss are sensitive or controversial, I am often prepping for how my colleagues will react,” Karen says.

Recently, for instance, the CEO announced that the company would be expanding and that it had signed a lease for more space in the building. Certain employees and teams would be moving to another floor.

Karen paid close attention to her colleagues’ body language and facial expressions to gauge their reactions. She was prepared for a mixed bag. “I knew everyone in the room was thinking: What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my team? Are we all going to have to move?” she says. “That’s human nature.”

Many of her colleagues seemed “genuinely pleased” by the news, she recalls. “They were excited because the move means we are growing.”

Others, however, gave off a decidedly different vibe. Some people’s faces went blank; others visibly frowned. One — we’ll call her Jane — looked down and scribbled a note to a colleague sitting next to her.

Karen assumed that Jane wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of moving. She thought about what she already knew about Jane. “She does not like to change her routine,” Karen notes.

Shortly after the meeting ended, Karen approached Jane. She told her that it seemed that she was unhappy about the move. “I wanted to make sure she knew I noticed her,” Karen says.

Jane appreciated that Karen noticed. “She said, ‘I don’t want to move because I like where my desk is now,’” Karen says. “She told me that she didn’t want to say anything in the meeting because she didn’t want to come off as not a team player.”

Karen listened attentively to Jane’s reasoning. She empathized with her and asked her open-ended questions about her concerns. She wanted to make sure Jane felt heard. “I told her that the office would be an exact replica of our current space and that the views would be better,” she says.

But Jane was not swayed by the argument. “I told her we would work something out so she would not have to move,” Karen says.

Case Study #2: Don’t assume you know how other people feel — ask them

Heather Anderson, an executive mentor at Vistage International, the San Diego–based advisory and executive coaching organization, says that she often speaks to her clients about the importance of social intelligence. “Emotions contain data,” she says. “I tell them that the emotional data they receive in their team meetings, their one-on-ones, and their client calls are just as important to their end game as anything else.”

She speaks from experience. Recently, Heather ran a meeting for one of her peer-to-peer coaching groups at Vistage. One of the agenda items was to provide feedback to one of the newer members — we’ll call her Susan. These meetings happen regularly; their purpose “is to challenge each other to be better leaders.”

“People are candid in these meetings and it can feel harsh if you’re on the receiving end — particularly when it’s your first time,” Heather says. “It’s intimidating.”

Heather first scanned the room to gauge the temperature; it wasn’t particularly tense, but she could tell that Susan was nervous. Next, she listened carefully to what others said. The comments were “frank,” and it wasn’t particularly positive.

She paid close attention to Susan’s body language. “I could see the look of surprise and fear on Susan’s face,” she says. “She shrunk in her chair and her shoulders dropped.”

Heather empathized with Susan’s emotions and reflected on what was happening. “I thought she felt threatened,” Heather says. “I wondered, ‘Should we soften our words?’”

To be sure, she asked Susan how she felt. “I said, ‘How are you feeling? What is it like to get this feedback?’”

Susan surprised her. “She said, ‘Wow. This is intense, but this is exactly what I signed up for.’”

Heather realized that she had projected some of her own feelings onto Susan. “I expected her to feel a certain way,” she says, “but you can’t assume you know.”

Later, Heather asked Susan how she planned to use the feedback she received during the meeting. “Susan was able to recite very specific action items, and she talked enthusiastically about the things she wanted to do and changes she wanted to make,” Heather says.

Heather plans to follow up with Susan in a few weeks.

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HBR: Learning Is a Learned Behavior. Here’s How to Get Better at It.

“The good news from all of this — for individuals and for companies looking to help their employees be their best — is that learning is a learned behavior. Being a quick study doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room. It’s that you’ve learned how to learn. By deliberately organizing your learning goals, thinking about your thinking, and reflecting on your learning at opportune times, you can become a better study, too.” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ulrich Boser:

Learning Is a Learned Behavior. Here’s How to Get Better at It.

Many people mistakenly believe that the ability to learn is a matter of intelligence. For them, learning is an immutable trait like eye color, simply luck of the genetic draw. People are born learners, or they’re not, the thinking goes. So why bother getting better at it?

And that’s why many people tend to approach the topic of learning without much focus. They don’t think much about how they will develop an area of mastery. They use phrases like “practice makes perfect” without really considering the learning strategy at play. It’s a remarkably ill-defined expression, after all. Does practice mean repeating the same skill over and over again? Does practice require feedback? Should practice be hard? Or should it be fun?

A growing body of research is making it clear that learners are made, not born. Through the deliberate use of practice and dedicated strategies to improve our ability to learn, we can all develop expertise faster and more effectively. In short, we can all get better at getting better.

Here’s one example of a study that shows how learning strategies can be more important than raw smarts when it comes to gaining expertise. Marcel Veenman has found that people who closely track their thinking will outscore others who have sky-high IQ levels when it comes to learning something new. His research suggests that in terms of developing mastery, focusing on how we understand is some 15 percentage points more important than innate intelligence.

Here are three practical ways to build your learning skills, based on research.

Organize your goals

Effective learning often boils down to a type of project management. In order to develop an area of expertise, we first have to set achievable goals about what we want to learn. Then we have to develop strategies to help us reach those goals.

A targeted approach to learning helps us cope with all the nagging feelings associated with gaining expertise: Am I good enough? Will I fail? What if I’m wrong? Isn’t there something else that I’d rather be doing?

While some self-carping is normal, Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura says these sorts of negative emotions can quickly rob us of our ability to learn something new. Plus, we’re more committed if we develop a plan with clear objectives. The research is overwhelming on this point. Studies consistently show that people with clear goals outperform people with vague aspirations like “do a good job.” By setting targets, people can manage their feelings more easily and achieve progress with their learning.

Think about thinking

Metacognition is crucial to the talent of learning. Psychologists define metacognition as “thinking about thinking,” and broadly speaking, metacognition is about being more inspective about how you know what you know. It’s a matter of asking ourselves questions like: Do I really get this idea? Could I explain it to a friend? What are my goals? Do I need more background knowledge? Or do I need more practice?

Metacognition comes easily to many trained experts. When a specialist works through an issue, they’ll often think a lot about how the problem is framed. They’ll often have a good sense of whether or not their answer seems reasonable.

The key, it turns out, is not to leave this sort of “thinking about thinking” to the experts. When it comes to learning, one of the biggest issues is that people don’t engage in metacognition enough. They don’t stop to ask themselves if they really get a skill or concept.

The issue, then, is not that something goes in one ear and out the other. The issue is that individuals don’t dwell on the dwelling. They don’t push themselves to really think about their thinking.

Reflect on your learning

There is something of a contradiction in learning. It turns out that we need to let go of our learning in order to understand our learning. For example, when we step away from a problem, we often learn more about a problem. Get into a discussion with a colleague, for instance, and often your best arguments arrive while you’re washing the dishes later. Read a software manual and a good amount of your comprehension can come after you shut the pages.

In short, learning benefits from reflection. This type of reflection requires a moment of calm. Maybe we’re quietly writing an essay in a corner — or talking to ourselves as we’re in the shower. But it usually takes a bit of cognitive quiet, a moment of silent introspection, for us to engage in any sort of focused deliberation.

Sleep is a fascinating example of this idea. It’s possible that we tidy up our knowledge while we’re napping or sleeping deeply. One recent study shows a good evening of shut-eye can reduce practice time by 50%.

The idea of cognitive quiet also helps explain why it’s so difficult to gain skills when we’re stressed or angry or lonely. When feelings surge through our brain, we can’t deliberate and reflect. Sure, in some sort of dramatic, high-stakes situations, we might be able to learn something basic like remember a phone number. But for us to gain any sort of understanding, there needs to be some state of mental ease.

The good news from all of this — for individuals and for companies looking to help their employees be their best — is that learning is a learned behavior. Being a quick study doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room. It’s that you’ve learned how to learn. By deliberately organizing your learning goals, thinking about your thinking, and reflecting on your learning at opportune times, you can become a better study, too.

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2018/05/learning-is-a-learned-behavior-heres-how-to-get-better-at-it

 

HBR: Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You.

I would encourage you to do a time-tracking exercise for 30 days. The information would be invaluable to being more productive and evaluating your schedule.  Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Dorie Clark:

Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You.

It’s hard to know if we’re really making efficient use of our time. It seems like we’re working hard — and we’re certainly stressed out. But are we spending our time on the right things? That’s the question I set out to solve at the start of this year. I was feeling overwhelmed after spending the fall launching a new book and was finally turning to the litany of tasks I’d neglected in its wake.

Inspired by a colleague, the time management expert Laura Vanderkam, I decided to spend the month of February tracking exactly how I spent my time, down to half-hour increments. It wasn’t high tech — I used an Excel spreadsheet — but even the process of remembering to write things down was arduous. After all, we’re used to living our lives, not recording them. But the insights I gained over the course of a month were extremely useful. In particular, there were four that made me rethink a lot of the conventional wisdom on productivity and time management. While I encourage you to do your own time-tracking exercise, if you don’t have the time for that (ha!), here’s what I learned:

The right kind of multitasking can be transformative. We’ve all heard plenty about the dangers of multitasking — we can’t do multiple things at once effectively, and we’ll always suffer from cognitive switching costs. That’s true for certain activities but — crucially — is irrelevant for others. For instance, almost anyone can easily listen to podcasts or audiobooks while exercising, cooking, or commuting to work, and if you’re dining alone, you can read while you eat.

With a month’s data in hand, I was astonished to discover I averaged almost two hours of reading each day, plus an additional 90 minutes of listening to audio content. “Reading more” is a common aspiration for busy professionals — one poll reported that nearly one in five people claimed it as their New Year’s resolution — and “strategic multitasking” is a surprisingly easy way to fit it in.

There are benefits from combining your personal and professional networks. Many people still hold to the idea that friends and business don’t mix and that you should separate your personal life and professional life. And it’s true that boundaries can be important for work-life balance.

But if you relish what you’re doing, the most interesting friends in the world are often ones with whom you can share both personal matters (discussing hobbies or commiserating about interpersonal relationships) and those related to your business. As I’m writing this article, in fact, I’m on an airplane with one of my closest friends, who nominated me for an elite business consortium that we’re now participating in together. In my time-tracking exercise, I counted my time under multiple categories if it legitimately filled both criteria. Amazingly, this allowed me to have a full 29% more time in my month — 866 hours instead of the typical 672 — which helped me to get more done.

For example, I learned that I spend 19.3 hours per week with friends and 17 hours doing some form of networking. The overlap isn’t perfect, but it’s close, and those relationships have formed the core of my professional success. I might spend more time socializing than some — I live in a city, and I don’t have kids — but the same principle of building overlapping personal and professional circles holds no matter how many hours per week you have to devote.

Certain hours of the day are especially likely to be “wasted.” I don’t waste much time on social media (I define “waste” as time spent scrolling aimlessly through feeds, rather than posting with a professional purpose in mind). In fact, it only came to 2.5 hours during the entire month of February. In the scheme of things, it’s not much, and we don’t need to optimize every minute. But I’d at least like to be deliberate in how I choose to slack off, and social media wouldn’t be my top choice.

During the times when I did fall into the social media rabbit hole, a clear pattern emerged: It almost always occurred between 10 PM and 11 PM. Despite recent questions about the accuracy of Roy Baumeister’s seminal theory of ego depletion, it certainly seemed to be the case for me that I was most susceptible to distraction at that time, when I was worn down from the demands of the day but not tired enough to sleep. Realizing that this time of day is when my defenses are lowest, I can now guard more vigilantly against misspending time.

Certain tasks carry disproportionate psychological weight. Before starting my experiment, my perception was that I was besieged by email, which was crippling my productivity. But the reality was somewhat different. Indeed, I spent about 1.35 hours per day handling messages, which isn’t trifling. But it’s also not overwhelming, and well under the amount of time I allocated each day to pure client work (my top priority), networking and time with friends, and even reading.

However, even recognizing this, email still bothered me the most of any task, and I felt constant psychological pressure when I was “behind” on my response times. It wasn’t so much the frequency of checking email that stressed me out. (Some have experimented with checking email only twice a day, with mixed results.) For me, the anxiety came from the feeling — endemic to the nature of email — that people were awaiting my response and that I was constantly being handed new tasks for my to-do list.

My time-tracking experiment, however, helped me put things into perspective. We may never be able to fully escape feelings of email-related guilt. But I’d much rather accept a minor twinge now because I’m slow in responding to someone’s message (the urgent) than the long-term shame I’d feel looking back and discovering I’d become an email ninja while jettisoning my own strategic priorities (the important).

Time tracking can be onerous. In fact, I assigned the experiment to the mastermind group I run, and several participants just couldn’t finish it. One strategy I used to force myself to log my hours every day was “habit stacking” — tying the new behavior to an existing one. In my case, I left my Excel document open on my computer so that it was the first thing I saw when I returned to work after a break. That prompted me to record whatever I’d been doing in the interval, whether it was sleeping (after an overnight break), taking a meeting, or having lunch.

If you can manage to keep it up, the knowledge gleaned from time tracking can be invaluable. Understanding where you can successfully multitask, essentially giving yourself more hours in the day, can transform your productivity. And recognizing which activities are stressful enables you to make smarter decisions about how to delegate or reshuffle your workflow, so you can optimize for the tasks that suit you best.

Without data, it’s easy to paint an erroneous picture of how we spend our time, whether it’s inadvertently exaggerating the number of hours we work or assuming we’re wasting more time than we really do. My month of time tracking revealed useful insights that have enabled me to become more productive — and if you make an effort to evaluate your schedule, it may highlight ways you can optimize moving forward as well.

Carson Tate: Bring Back Recess – No, I Am Not Kidding…

“The true measure of play is how it feels. Play is joy. Play is a sense of being fully present in the moment and not looking to produce or gain anything as a result of effort.” When was the last time you played? Below is a blog from Carson Tate:

Bring Back Recess – No, I Am Not Kidding…

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When was the last time you played?

I’ll be honest with you – for me, it had been months. As a recovering workaholic and someone who is fairly obsessive about productivity and effectiveness, I always struggled with the idea of play. ‘Play’ felt a little like a four letter word.

Why? Because, at the end of the day, what does dancing around my office singing Katy Perry at the top of my lungs actually produce? Sure, it burns a few calories and relieves writer’s block, but isn’t that time that I could be using more productively, more effectively?

I hit the wall a few months back; it was in that moment that I realized the true power of play. I was working on multiple tight deadlines each requiring significant outputs of fresh creative ideas and energy. As much as I tried to fuel myself with a steady supply of caffeine and chocolate, my body felt tired and my brain was blank, dull and flat. I knew that something had to give or I was never going to create a new program or write a fresh article again.

In that moment of desperation, I turned on NPR, and my brain fog parted when I heard Brigid Shulte discussing her book, Overwhelmed, and the value of play. She quoted Stuart Brown who says that play is what keeps our brains flexible and is what enables us to innovate, create and solve problems in new ways. And, in Brown’s “play histories” he has found that people who do not make time for play – in either attitude or activity – are often joyless, rigid, have diminished curiosity and, at the core are depressed.

I knew immediately what I needed to do – I need to play.

Of course, my first instinct was to try to make these attempts at play productive uses of time. So, I scheduled runs with friends – exercise and social time. A book club – expanding my mind and social time. However, each of these attempts at play felt like work just wrapped up in a prettier package. I was missing something.

I was missing what play naturally produces.

The true measure of play is how it feels. Play is joy. Play is a sense of being fully present in the moment and not looking to produce or gain anything as a result of effort.

So, if any of this sounds vaguely familiar or you are just looking to reignite passion it is time to insert PLAY into your life.

P – Purpose

The first step, which I of course learned the hard way, is to disconnect play from any purpose. You are not doing this to get in shape, stimulate your mind, or produce a specific outcome or deliverable. You are doing the activity for the pure joy of it. Now, this can be challenging, so if you must have a purpose refer back to Brown’s research on what happens when you do not make time to play. That should provide a little motivation.

L – Love

How do you feel when you look at a person you love? Play is about connecting to that place of bliss, passion and pure delight. I will never forget that feeling of expansiveness and pure adoration when I looked at my daughter for the first time. So, what lights you up? What did you do as a child that got you excited? I loved making mud pies. I could play in the sandbox and make mud pies for hours pretending not to hear my Mom when she called me in for dinner. I would lose myself in the pure joy of simply creating. How can you recreate this in your life today?

A – Action

Play requires action. There is no such thing as virtual play. Play is the full engagement of body, mind and spirit. You cannot outsource it or reduce it to 140 characters. Trawling Facebook does not count either. You have to do something. To reconnect with the joy of play I enjoyed as a child, I enrolled in a pottery class. It was two hours once a week playing in the mud. I will not be entering any art shows, but I could not care less. I am once again playing in the mud.

Y – Yes!

Play ignites that feeling of yes in your life. It is the full expression of the essence of you. When you are truly playing, you cannot help but feel the exhilaration and a deep sense of rightness that you are truly and fundamentally aligned to your spirit.

Play is living fully.

Go play.

What can you do now?

  • Write down five things you loved to do as a child. Choose one to do again this week.
  • If you cannot think of anything you enjoyed to do as a child or need inspiration check out http://miceatplay.com/ . This is an amazing community of women in the NYC area who meet regularly for pretty cool playdates. If you are in NYC go play with them!
  • Check out http://www.meetup.com/ and find some people in your area who are getting together to play. Find a group and go join them.
  • If you are at work, play a game on the computer, bring in a slinky and watch it fall off your desk, or start each team meeting by asking your colleagues to share a story about the last time they played. Lighten it up and lose yourself, even for two minutes, in the joy of play.

HBR: How to Improve Your Sales Skills, Even If You’re Not a Salesperson

Do you think selling is a fundamental skill you need in business? Do you think it’s your job to determine what motivates your customer? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Rebecca Knight:

How to Improve Your Sales Skills, Even If You’re Not a Salesperson

At some point in your career, even if you’re not a salesperson, you’re going to have to sell something — whether it’s your idea, your team, or yourself. So how can you improve your sales skills, especially if you don’t pitch people often? What should you focus on first? And what should you do if you lose a sale?

What the Experts Say
Selling has a bad rap, says Thomas Steenburgh, professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. “Very few parents say they want their kids to grow up to be a salesperson,” he says. His MBA students are no different. “Many of them tell me that sales is something they never want to do in their careers.” And yet, he says, “Sales is the most fundamental skill.” Scott Edinger, the founder of Edinger Consulting Group and the author of The Hidden Leader, says that the resistance to sales stems from an “antiquated idea that selling is pushing people to buy something they don’t want, don’t need, or can’t afford.” But that notion is outdated. “Selling is moving somebody else to action,” he says. And that is part and parcel of professional life. “If you look at things you do over the course of your day, from internal meetings with colleagues to clients calls, almost all of your interactions involve some form of selling.” Here’s how to get better at it.

Reflect
Getting comfortable with sales requires an “understanding of what selling is,” says Edinger. Move beyond the used car salesman cliché. “Selling is not about putting undue pressure on and talking incessantly,” all while “wearing a light blue polyester suit,” he says. Rather, selling “is persuading, inspiring, and leading.” Your goal is “to work in collaboration” with a client or colleague “to drive change.” To get into the right mindset, Steenburgh recommends reflecting on your past positive experiences as a customer. “When you think about the best sales interactions you’ve had in your life, it’s almost like the salesperson wasn’t there,” he says. The seller was just “a person who’d taken a genuine interest in your problem and was helping you solve it.”

Put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes
“People buy for two reasons,” says Steenburgh. They either have a business problem that needs to be solved or they have a personal need, such as a desire to move up in the organization” that your idea helps accelerate. It’s your job to figure out your customer’s motivations: “What would it take to get your boss to sign off on a project or to get your clients excited about what you have to offer?” says Edinger. Do your research by talking with the people you’re trying to win over, and others in the know, well in advance of making your proposal. Think about what information you need to uncover. “Be empathetic. Focus on understanding the other party — what they need to accomplish and how they measure success.” This will help you tailor your recommendations.

Plan and practice
Crafting your sales pitch should not be a solo endeavor. Edinger suggests enlisting “a trusted peer or manager” to “role-play” so you can “see what works and what doesn’t.” Your goal is “to understand how the flow of these conversations feels and sounds.” Your colleague can coach you on how you come across and how to improve your delivery. Steenburgh recommends practicing in front of novices. “Talk to someone who is not an expert in the field, such as your grandmother,” he says. “Her questions will help you frame the problem.” Chances are, your first attempt at a pitch will miss the mark. “People spend so much time in their own heads, thinking about their idea, that they fail to draw the connection to how the product will improve someone else’s life,” he says.

Stay calm and don’t brag
Even with meticulous preparation, pitches can go awry. Your adrenaline is surging, so you may end up talking too much or failing to get to the point quickly. There is no easy solution, says Edinger. His advice: “Chill out.” Try to “relax your facial expressions” and keep your body language confident and loose. Check your tone and pacing. “Nobody wants to be lectured. Be respectful” but not overly deferential, he adds. “Establish a peer-level interaction. You’re not begging on bended knee.” Another common problem, says Steenbergh, is “letting your ego get in the way.” Sometimes, you get caught up in “talking about your strengths, and not what your counterpart wants,” he says. “At best, the person gets bored. And worst, it sends a message that you’re [not right] for the job.”

Close the deal
Being good at selling means you both “understand the ‘customer’ and understand the path they need to go through to buy,” says Steenburgh. It’s rare that anyone will immediately bite upon hearing your pitch — no matter how brilliant it is. Your counterpart “might need to assess the financial impact of such a purchase,” review competitors, or check with a higher-up before signing off. Regardless of what that next phase may be, you should “ask permission to move forward.” He recommends saying something like, “Are you ready to take the next step? What else can I do to help you make this decision?” Be “flexible” and willing to brainstorm, says Edinger. Think about ways you can “work together in collaboration to improve a product, service, or idea.” If the answer is no, or not yet, use the opportunity to gently probe. “Is the new idea too threatening? Too difficult? Or too expensive?”

Think long term
Veteran salespeople know it’s possible that “you’re going to fail more than you will succeed,” says Steenburgh. “You just have to have the guts to keep moving forward.” To summon that courage, remind yourself “that it’s not always about you.” Your counterpart has to take many interests into account. Remember, too, that sales is rarely “a one-and-done deal.” If your pitch is unsuccessful, “go back to your target in three months and ask, ‘How’s it going? Are your needs being met?’ If they are, great, but if not,” you may have another shot. “Think about the big picture.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Your research. Figure out what’s important to your counterpart and what business problems they’re trying to solve.
  • Role-play your pitch with a trusted colleague and ask for feedback on ways to improve your presentation
  • Ask permission to move forward after your initial pitch by saying something like, “Are you ready to take the next step?”

Don’t:

  • Tense up. Relax your facial expressions and keep your body language loose.
  • Talk too much — and especially don’t brag. Focus on how you can help your counterpart.
  • Beat yourself up if you’re unsuccessful. Think big picture. Stay in touch and look for opportunities to try again.

Case Study #1: Develop an understanding of your customer’s needs, and show empathic concern
Damian Vaughn, head of programs at BetterUp, a San Francisco–based company that connects employees with executive-level coaching, believes that being good at sales means that you understand both the “political and personal element” behind every buying decision.

“You need to be able to connect the dots between [your customer’s] business needs and their personal needs,” says Damian, a former NFL player turned entrepreneur. “And you need to show empathic concern.”

Earlier in his career, Damian worked as a management consultant. He wanted to sell his company’s organizational assessment and leadership development services to “George,” a CEO who had taken the reins of a technology firm poised for a great deal of change.

Before he developed his pitch, Damian did his research. “I needed to get a sense of the broader macroeconomic environment George was operating in,” he says.

He talked to George’s colleagues to develop a deeper understanding of the CEO’s personal motivations. The conversations were illuminating. “George was a seasoned CEO but not a veteran, and this was his first transformation,” he says. “He wanted to deliver business results, but he also had a need for significance. He wanted to prove that he belonged in this orbit.”

In addition, George was eager to connect with his employees. “The people component was really important to him,” Damian says.

He used this information to tailor his pitch to George. It was subtle: “The messaging was that the success we were going to achieve would tie directly back to him,” he says.

Damian also demonstrated how his consulting services would allow George “to engage and collaborate with his employees. I showed him how everyone would feel connected.”

At the beginning of the pitch, Damian provided a brief overview of his company’s services. Then he paused. It was George’s turn to talk. “I listened to George’s vision and intentions,” he says.

After George was done, Damian presented his case. “Our solution was what I’m sure felt like a customized service,” he says. “It was what the business needed and what he wanted.”

George signed on, and the successful engagement lasted about 18 months.

Case Study #2: Learn from mistakes and be willing to collaborate with your customers on a solution
David Neenan, president of international at TransUnion, a consumer credit reporting agency, often attends sales meetings at the C-suite level. “I am not a salesperson, but I have to represent the best of what we do and why it’s relevant,” he says.

Early on, he made mistakes. “I sometimes came in with too many ideas of where we might be helpful, and it overwhelmed the listener,” he says. “I have learned that sales takes discipline and that I need to pick and choose what to talk about once I understand the customer’s problem.”

Other times, “I left regretting that we didn’t make ‘the ask,’ or that we didn’t make it aggressively enough,” he says. Now he knows that the team needs someone in the meeting who is “not afraid to ask the customer to commit to a next step.”

He says he’s picked up a lot from TransUnion’s best salespeople, and from conversations with customers: “A client once said to me, ‘A good salesperson takes you where you want to go. A great salesperson takes you where you need to go,’ and it’s true,” he explains.

A few years ago, David was in a sales meeting with a big bank that wanted to cut its approval process for credit seekers to less than 10 seconds.

“We understood that this was not going to be a quick fix, because we did not have an off-the-shelf solution,” he recalls. “We needed to take a couple of leaps forward and brainstorm with the client to see how we might build a model or framework to solve the issue.”

David enjoys this kind of collaboration. “I work in 30 countries, and I like sharing experiences from other markets by taking what we know works in Market A and applying it to Market B,” he says. “That’s when you start to use the word we, as in ‘We are solving the problem together.’”

David and his team marshaled the internal resources to build a solution for the bank, and it signed with TransUnion.

Do You Have a Growth Or a Fixed Mindset?

Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success by Angela Duckworth is a fascinating book. She explores a lot of topics to improve your success in life. Below is an excerpt from the book:

Growth vs Fixed MindsetGrit.jpg

Here are four statements Carol (Dweck) uses to assess a person’s theory of intelligence. Read them now and consider how much you agree or disagree with each:

Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.

You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.

No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.

You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

If you found yourself nodding affirmatively to the first two statements but shaking your head in disagreement with the last two, then Carol would say you have more of a fixed mindset. If you had the opposite reaction, then Carol would say you tend toward a growth mindset.

I like to think of a growth mindset this way: Some of us believe, deep down, that people really can change. These growth-oriented people assume that it’s possible, for example, to get smarter if you’re given the right opportunities and support and if you try hard enough and if you believe you can do it. Conversely, some people think you can learn skills, like how to ride a bike or do a sales pitch, but your capacity to learn skills — your talent — can’t be trained. The problem with holding the latter fixed-mindset view — and many people who consider themselves talented do — is that no road is without bumps. Eventually, you’re going to hit one. At that point, having a fixed mindset becomes a tremendous liability. This is when a C-, a rejection letter, a disappointing progress review at work, or any other setback can derail you. With a fixed mindset, you’re likely to interpret these setbacks as evidence that, after all, you don’t have “the right stuff” – you’re not good enough. With a growth mindset, you believe you can learn to do better.

Mindsets have been shown to make a difference in all the same life domains as optimism. For instance, if you have a growth mindset, you’re more likely to do well in school, enjoy better emotional and physical health, and have stronger, more positive social relationships with other people.

A few years ago, Carol and I asked more than two thousand high school seniors to complete a growth-mindset questionnaire. We’ve found that students with a growth mindset are significantly grittier than students with a fixed mindset. What’s more, grittier students earn higher report card grades and, after graduation, are more likely to enroll in and persist through college. I’ve since measured growth mindset and grit in both younger children and older adults, and in every sample, I’ve found that growth mindset and grit go together.

SMART Goals

The practice of goal-setting is helpful in the pursuit of happiness. Psychologists tell us that people who make consistent progress toward meaningful goals live happier, more satisfied lives.

If you don’t have written goals, I encourage you to make an appointment on your calendar to work on them. You can get a rough draft done in as little as an hour or two. Few things in life pay such rich dividends for such a modest investment.

A SMART goal is an acronym for achieving your commitments. Below are the five meanings:

  • Specific—Your goals must identify exactly what you want to accomplish in as much specificity as you can muster.
  • Measurable—If possible, try to quantify the result. You want to know absolutely, positively whether or not you hit the goal.
  • Actionable—Every goal should start with an action verb (accomplish, organize, increase, develop, budget, etc.) rather than a to-be verb (am, be, have, etc.)
  • Realistic—A good goal should stretch you, but you have to add a dose of common sense. Go right up to the edge of your comfort zone and then step over it.
  • Time-bound—Every goal needs a date associated with Make sure that every goal ends with a “by when” date.[1]

Your next steps are as follows:

  1. Write them down. This is critical. There is huge power in writing down your goals.
  2. Review them frequently. Writing your goals down makes them real but the key is to review them on a regular basis and break them down into actionable tasks.
  3. Share them selectively. Sharing them with those that are important to you and someone to whom you can be accountable.

[1] Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, Living forward : a proven plan to stop drifting and get the life you want (Baker Books, 2016), 95